Microbes in the News #3 – A Changing Ocean (Sage Robine)

Article:  Study: Much of the surface ocean will shift in color by end of 21st century

(https://news.mit.edu/2019/study-ocean-color-change-phytoplankton-climate-0204) –> MIT News, February 4, 2019

Summary:  Researchers at MIT have developed a model that simulates how the colours of the ocean may change over the next 100 years due to climate change. Their model looks at the colours of the ocean as seen from a satellite, where green hues indicate a greater concentration of algae and phytoplankton while dark blue hues indicate a lack of significant algae growth. Their model predicted that the subtropics will turn a deeper blue colour, indicating less phytoplankton growth and therefore less life in general. Meanwhile, the poles may turn a darker shade of green from increased algae blooms due to warming temperatures. These changes in levels of algal growth mean that entire food webs could be significantly altered by the end of the century, which would have significant impacts worldwide.

Connections:  This article is a good reflection of how microbial ecology can have a big impact on our world. Changes in microbial activity in the oceans over the next century could be big enough to be seen from space! And since life in the ocean is very dependent on levels of microbial growth (microbes make up the base of most ocean food webs) these changes could have dramatic impacts on all domains of life.

Critical Analysis:  I really enjoyed reading this article. It was easy to read and seemed to summarize the MIT study really well. I am somewhat cautious about this model, because I have not seen proof of its face and predictive validity, but I am sure if I read the entire peer-reviewed paper in depth it would prove to be a fairly accurate model for ocean colour change. Overall, this article was well-written, informative, accurate and easy to understand.

Question:  If the algal growth in our oceans changes as much as it is supposed to, how can we model these impacts on ocean food webs and what would those models show us?

4 Comments for “Microbes in the News #3 – A Changing Ocean (Sage Robine)”



This sort of macro scale change seems incredibly difficult to predict. The article seems to conclude there will not necessarily be a full on shift in plankton and algae abundance relative to longitude. Rather the defining characteristics of ocean areas might intensify. Though an algae bloom in the arctic might cause malaise. A way to answer your question Sage, would be to sample areas with definite color characteristics the modeling used for observation and induce the suspected new conditions in a controlled setting. Allowing for observations, at least at the micro scale. A research lab in Australia has been taking coral reef samples along with parts their surrounding ecosystem to create a model. Then inducing future climate change conditions in an attempt to observe evolutionary adaptation and grow global warming resistant reefs.



It’s so crazy to think that we could have detrimental amounts of algae in our oceans in only a hundred years!

I think that we could start looking at our keystone species and conducting experiments with the effects of algae. We could also look at literature and see how algae models have affected species. This would be an ideal route to begin understanding the impacts on the food web in the ocean.



I thought it was a very interesting read, as it wasn’t something I had ever really thought about but it is definitely something that climate change will have a big effect on. To answer your question, I think it would be really important to compare and contrast what data we have from research that has already been done on algal growth on certain ecosystems. Many parts of the US are having issues in small ponds or even larger lakes with algal growth drastically changing the food webs. By understanding these effects on a small scale and how we can mitigate them this would be a step in the right direction when it happens to a larger scale in the open ocean.



I think ecology studies should begin on the affects this already creating in marine ecosystems, the article stated that this change is already underway, perhaps studies could be conducted to predict the effect its had this far.

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