Sunday, 17 February, 2019

Climate change will dramatically alter colour of Earth's oceans

Changes in algae will turn some seas a more brilliant blue Changes in algae will turn some seas a more brilliant blue Credit Gardel
Sandra Phillips | 07 February, 2019, 20:16

Half the world's oceans will change colour as global warming plays havoc with the spread of microscopic marine algae, according to a new study.

Dutkiewicz said oceans around the world are likely already changing in colour, but the changes are likely too small for us to detect with the naked eye.

Researchers say the colour changes are down to the effect of climate change on populations of tiny water-dwelling organisms, known as phytoplankton, that convert sunlight into chemical energy through photosynthesis, as well as effects on levels of other colourful components of the oceans. They also simulated how phytoplankton absorbs and reflects light, learning that climate change will effectively alter the ocean's coloring near the surface. Greener areas, such as those near the poles today, may turn deeper shades of green as warmer temperatures cause blooms of phytoplankton.

"The basic pattern will still be there", said Research Scientist Stephanie Dutkiewicz in a press release from MIT.

The existing model was altered to allow it to estimate the specific wavelengths of light that would be absorbed, and those that would be reflected back out by the ocean depending on the quantity and diversity of organisms that are present in the body of water. The deeper blue regions will indicate less phytoplankton and therefore less marine life. These unabsorbed wavelengths of light are reflected away from the molecules, making them appear blue.

"Sunlight will come into the ocean, and anything that's in the ocean will absorb it, like chlorophyll", Dutkiewicz says.

Importantly, she said, the shift in reflectance of blue/green light appeared to give an earlier indication of changes to phytoplankton than estimates of the amount of chlorophyll present, a measure now used to monitor phytoplankton levels.

Some might argue the color of climate change is red - the color that most often marks dramatic temperature increases on climate maps.

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For their study, the researchers developed a model simulating the growth and interactions of different phytoplankton species, and ran simulations based on the planet warming by 3C.

The group tweaked a computer model that it has used in the past to predict phytoplankton changes with rising temperatures and ocean acidification.

"Other things will absorb or scatter it, like something with a hard shell".

It looks at how the sea's colour might change if the global temperature would have gone up to 3 degrees celcius by 2100. "But the change in the colour of the ocean will be one of early warning signals that we really have changed our planet".

An MIT study is reporting that by the end of the 21st century, 50 percent of the world's ocean, will be a different color. But using those images to look at reflected light alone, the researchers in the new study could distinguish what is specifically due to climate change.

"It could be potentially quite serious", Dutkiewicz added, referring to the change in color in the oceans.

According to the model, areas in the subtropics will become even more blue due to less algae - which could also mean less sea life as algae is the main meal for creatures in the ocean.

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