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?