Quantcast

Global Warming Will Even Change the Color of the Oceans, Study Finds

Oceans
Phytoplankton and algae discolor waters north of the Florida Keys. NASA

Climate change impacts our planet in far-reaching ways, and now a new study suggests it will even change the color of Earth's seas.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggest that much of the ocean surface will be bluer and greener due to the effect of rising global temperatures on phytoplankton, or microscopic marine algae that contain chlorophyll and need sunlight to live and grow.


For the study, published Monday in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers used computer modeling to simulate how temperature, ocean currents and ocean acidity will impact the growth of different types of phytoplankton as well how they absorb and reflect light, the Guardian reported.

Their results showed that more than half of the world's oceans will shift color if sea surface temperatures continue to rise under a "business as usual scenario" of 3°C (5.4°F) by 2100.

"There will be a noticeable difference in the color of 50 percent of the ocean by the end of the 21st century," lead author Stephanie Dutkiewicz, a principal research scientist at MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, said in a press release.

When water looks especially green, it means there is a lot of phytoplankton growing near the surface. According to study, as ocean temperatures rise, greener regions such as near the poles, may turn even deeper green, as warmer temperatures lead to larger and more diverse phytoplankton blooms.

Conversely, when water looks especially blue, there is less phytoplankton. In blue regions such as the subtropics, waters are expected to become even bluer, meaning there's even less phytoplankton—as well as life in general.

The implications of the study could be "quite serious," as Dutkiewicz noted in the release.

Phytoplankton are the base of the aquatic food web, feeding everything tiny zooplankton to larger species such as whales.

"Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, that will also change the types of food webs they can support," she said.

The little algae are also crucial in absorbing the carbon dioxide causing climate change.

"Without them there wouldn't be any life in the ocean," Dutkiewicz also told WBUR News. "If they were to magically change—or if we were to kill them off completely—there would be a lot of carbon coming out of the ocean and back into the atmosphere, and creating more problems that we have now."

Amala Mahadevan, a physical oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was not involved with the study, praised the MIT researchers for coming up with a novel method of measuring ocean health.

She told WBUR that current methods for monitoring phytoplankton only show information about local or regional changes, but this new research could provide a better and clearer picture on much a larger scale.

"If we were able to get a global picture, that would be very powerful," Mahadevan said.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Ice-rich permafrost has been exposed due to coastal erosion, National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska. Brandt Meixell / USGS


By Jake Johnson

An alarming study released Tuesday found that melting Arctic permafrost could add nearly $70 trillion to the global cost of climate change unless immediate action is taken to slash carbon emissions.

According to the new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, melting permafrost caused by accelerating Arctic warming would add close to $70 trillion to the overall economic impact of climate change if the planet warms by 3°C by 2100.

Read More Show Less
Jeff Reed / NYC Council

The New York City Council on Thursday overwhelmingly passed one of the most ambitious and innovative legislative packages ever considered by any major city to combat the existential threat of climate change.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Ghazipur is a neighborhood in East Delhi. It has been one of the largest dumping site for Delhi. India is one of many countries where global warming has dragged down economic growth. Frédéric Soltan / Corbis / Getty Images

Global inequality is worse today because of climate change, finds a new study published Monday by Stanford University professors Noah Diffenbaugh and Marshall Burke in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read More Show Less
A child playing with a ball from planet earth during Extinction Rebellion rally on April 18 in London, England. Brais G. Rouco / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

Earth Day 2019 just passed, but planning has already begun for Earth Day 2020, and it's going to be a big deal.

Read More Show Less
Geneva Vanderzeil, A Pair & A Spare / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Is your closet filled with clothes you don't wear (and probably don't like anymore)? Are you buying cheap and trendy clothing you only wear once or twice? What's up with all the excess? Shifting to a more Earth-conscious wardrobe can help simplify your life, as well as curb fast fashion's toll on people and the planet.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Christine Zenino / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting six times faster than it was in the 1980s, which is even faster than scientists thought, CNN reported Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
The 18th century St. Catherine of Alexandria church is seen after its bell tower was destroyed following a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the town of Porac, pampanga province on April 23. TED ALJIBE / AFP / Getty Images

At least 16 people have died, 81 are injured and 14 are still missing after an earthquake struck Luzon island in the Philippines Monday, according to the latest figures from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, as the Philippine Star tweeted Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Climate change activists gather in front of the stage at the Extinction Rebellion group's environmental protest camp at Marble Arch in London on April 22, on the eighth day of the group's protest calling for political change to combat climate change. TOLGA AKMEN / AFP / Getty Images

Extinction Rebellion, the climate protest that has blocked major London thoroughfares since Monday April 15, was cleared from three key areas over Easter weekend, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less