Research

Climate Change Will Begin Changing the Color of the Ocean

Climate Change Will Begin Changing the Color of the Ocean

The team also simulated how phytoplankton absorb and reflect light, and estimates a perceivable change in the ocean's color as global warming affects the makeup of phytoplankton communities. By keeping a close watch on ocean colours, scientists can better understand phytoplankton and how they impact the world around them.

The study suggests that blue regions, such as the subtropics, will become even more blue, reflecting even less phytoplankton - and life in general - in those waters, compared with today.

By the year 2100, they say more than 50 percent of our oceans will have shifted in color, and those regions in the subtropics and near the equator and poles will have brighter blues and deeper greens most visible through satellite images of the Earth. Thus, more quantity of phytoplankton, lesser the blue color in the sea and more of green shaded water.

Oceans will change color by the end of the century, as climate change significantly alters phytoplankton in the world's seas, according to a new study.

"We're not going to suddenly go from having a blue ocean to a red ocean or something like that, but there will be very, very subtle changes", says Dutkiewicz, a principal research scientist at MIT's Center for Global Change Science.

Some might argue the color of climate change is red - the color that most often marks dramatic temperature increases on climate maps. They play a crucial role in sustaining the food chain under water. The deeper blue regions will indicate less phytoplankton and therefore less marine life.

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To determine this, the research team developed a global model that simulates the growth and interaction of phytoplankton and how the different species mix with a rise in temperatures as well as how the creatures absorb and reflect light. They're able to do this because water absorbs most sunlight with the exception of blue parts of the spectrum, which is reflected back out. If there are any organisms in the ocean, they can absorb and reflect different wavelengths of light, depending on their individual properties.

As the delicate ecosystems of the world's oceans become altered in the face of climate change, so too will their colour. "We are interested in phytoplankton because they are tiny marine plants, they contribute about half of global photosynthesis, they are the base of the marine food web".

A United Nations-backed panel of scientists said a year ago that it will require "unprecedented" action over the coming decade for the world to limit warming and stave off the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

But it's been hard to detect and measure these changes, says Dutkiewicz, partly because there's so much variability in the ocean from year to year. "I would probably predict that the colour change isn't going to be perceptible to the naked eye", said Hickman. "But you can see a significant, climate-related shift in some of these wavebands, in the signal being sent out to the satellites. But the change in the colour of the ocean will be one of early warning signals that we really have changed our planet".

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

'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'.


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