Now it’s a Phytoplanktonic panic

Borrowing a phrase from NSIDC’s Dr. Mark Serreze, Phytoplankton are now apparently in a “Death Spiral”. See Death spiral of the oceans and the original press release about an article in Nature from a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University, which started all this. I’m a bit skeptical of the method which they describe in the PR here:

A simple tool known as a Secchi disk as been used by scientists since 1899 to determine the transparency of the world’s oceans. The Secchi disk is a round disk, about the size of a dinner plate, marked with a black and white alternating pattern. It’s attached to a long string of rope which researchers slowly lower into the water. The depth at which the pattern is no longer visible is recorded and scientists use the data to determine the amount of algae present in the water.

Hmmm. A Secchi disk is a proxy, not a direct measurement of phytoplankton. It measures turbidity, which can be due to quite a number of factors, including but not limited to Phytoplankton. While they claim to also do chlorophyll measurements, the accuracy of a SD measurements made by thousands of observers is the central question.

From the literature: The Secchi disk transparency measurement is perhaps one of the oldest and simplest of all measurements. But there is grave danger of errors in such measurements where a water telescope is not utilized, as well as in the presence of water color and inorganic turbidity (source: Vollenweider and Kerekes, 1982). I’ll have more on this later. – Anthony

======================================================

Diatoms are one of the most common types of phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton need cap and trade

By Steve Goddard

Yesterday, Joe Romm reported :

Nature Stunner: “Global warming blamed for 40% decline in the ocean’s phytoplankton”
“Microscopic life crucial to the marine food chain is dying out. The consequences could be catastrophic.”

That sounds scary. Does it make any sense? Phytoplankton thrive everywhere on the planet from the Arctic to the tropics. One of the primary goals of this year’s Catlin expedition was to study the effect of increased CO2 on phytoplankton in the Arctic. They reported:

Uptake of CO2 by phytoplankton increases as ocean acidity increases

That sounds like good news for Joe!  We also know that phytoplankton have been around for billions of years, surviving average global temperatures 10C higher and CO2 levels 20X higher than the present.

http://ff.org/centers/csspp/library/co2weekly/2005-08-18/dioxide.htm

Phytoplankton growth/reduction in the tropics correlates closely with ENSO. El Nñio causes populations to reduce, and La Niña causes the populations to increase.

During an El Niño year, warm waters from the Western Pacific Ocean spread out over much of the basin as upwelling subsides in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Upwelling brings cool, nutrient-rich water from the deep ocean up to the surface. So, when upwelling weakens, phytoplankton do not get enough nutrients to maintain their growth. As a result, surface waters turn into “marine deserts” with unusually low populations of phytoplankton and other tiny organisms. With less food, fish cannot survive in the surface water, which then also deprives seabirds of food.

During La Niña conditions, the opposite effect occurs as the easterly trade winds pick up and upwelling intensifies, bringing nutrients to the surface waters, which fuels phytoplankton growth. Sometimes, the growth can take place quickly, developing into what scientists call phytoplankton “blooms.”

The phytoplankton must be loving life now!

The author of this study (Boris Worm) also reported last year “if fishing continued at the same rate, all the world’s seafood stocks would collapse by 2048

So we know that phytoplankton have survived for billions of years in a vast range of climates, temperatures and CO2 levels. Apparently they have become very sensitive of late – perhaps from all the estrogens being dumped in the oceans? Or maybe they have been watching too much Oprah?

The standard cure for hyperventilation is to increase your CO2 levels by putting a bag over your head.

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144 thoughts on “Now it’s a Phytoplanktonic panic

  1. 1 soft science study and the impulse reaction is to panic. They have no idea how to measure trends in plankton. None. It grows on CO2, water and nutrients. It creates O2 and material. Joe Romm fakes anxiety attacks. They have no idea if the water levels at which this grows has changed in temperature. I guarantee it takes more fear and drama than ever before to obtain funding.

  2. Billion years is a long time. I’d guess that they’ve evolved to change their behavior/growth with subtle changes in solar activity, in anticipation of less food when it gets cloudy.

  3. No doubt you are familiar with planktonic carbon-fixation paths, but let me remind you anyway. Most plants, phytoplankton included are C3, a process which is discriminatory against the heavier carbon isotopes, so a richly-fed ocean will tend to take up a slightly greater proportion of the light isotope 12C. C3 requires a good level of trace elements, including… zinc and chromium, IIRC, but don’t quote me on that… and without those trace elements the phytos which use C4 will begin to dominate. Indeed, certain flexible phytos will change in those circumstances to C4 from C3. C4 uses much more C13/14 than C3.

    A starving, stratified ocean will thus move towards a metabolic pathway which pulls down more heavier isotopes of carbon and the atmosphere will be depleted of those isotopes. I have argued that this is the source of the light isotope atmospheric signal which we are pointing to as the anthropogenic signal.

    I am unaware of studies which quantify DMS emissions from the various plankton species, although the C4, starved, types might well be short of the resources to make that notoriously cloud-facilitating chemical. However, reduced planktonic populations will certainly lead to reduced DMS emission. Fewer phytos, less DMS, fewer CCNs, fewer clouds which are not so reflective. Warming.

    Incidentally, phyos have diatoms as their most ferocious competitor, a competitor limited by silica availability. Modern agriculture (from about 1750) has been throwing huge amounts of silica into the oceans. Diatoms are C4, which may explain why the ‘anthropogenic’ carbon isotope signal begins in the eighteenth century, long before our burning of fossil fuel can have had an effect.

    So, it’s warming, it may even be anthropogenic, but it’s not only about CO2.

    JF

  4. “The scientific consensus is that we could not stop global warming at this point, even if we ceased all greenhouse gas production immediately”

    What a relief.

  5. Instead of food, should probably have written energy. The food seems to come with cold waters. They probably bloom when there is less sun, feeding off of stored nutrients and energy.

  6. 1 way to catch either dishonest or deceptive claims is to expose contradiction. If all the fish are dying, that means more nutrients for plankton to grow on. Dead plant and animal life is a source of nutrients.
    If the water warms .o8 degrees in 50 years,
    that is so irrelevant because they say the temperature range at which it grows is vast.

    There are several more contradictions.
    Our experiment proves that fear of the death of plankton results in easy grant money.

    If you hit up Big Oil and lay a little guilt trip on them, they will fund this.

  7. Let us recall that Dr Worm is a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, directed by Schellnhuber and Rahmstorf.
    That ought to tell you everything.

  8. latitude;
    And what they do not say is that we could not accelerate it, even if we doubled CO2 production from here forward. CO2 is irrelevant, except that it may even be a cooling agent, since it takes ambient heat from all sources and dumps some of it as IR, thus increasing the radiative outflow of heat from the planet.

  9. Julian Flood says:
    July 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    “Incidentally, phyos have diatoms as their most ferocious competitor, a competitor limited by silica availability. Modern agriculture (from about 1750) has been throwing huge amounts of silica into the oceans. Diatoms are C4, which may explain why the ‘anthropogenic’ carbon isotope signal begins in the eighteenth century, long before our burning of fossil fuel can have had an effect.”

    Interesting theory, the “isotopic signature” of our CO2 emissions never smelled right to me, there are too many confounding factors and while plausible I think it suffers a bit too much from confirmation bias.

    So, it’s warming, it may even be anthropogenic, but it’s not only about CO2.

  10. First it was Hockey-Stick-gate, where the tree rings of one pine tree in the Yamal Penninsula “proved” runaway, Mann-made global warming. Then there was Sea-Level-Gate where one tidal gauge in Hong Kong Harbor mounted on sinking geology “proved” sea levels around the world were rising. This was followed by Hurricane-Gate, where the IPCC’s claims of more powerful and more frequent hurricanes were disproven by the rather stable world Accumulated Cyclone Energy data. Then there was Amazon-Rainforest-Gate where the IPCC based its predictions of a precipitation reduction on a WWF propaganda article, not peer-reviewed science. Then there was Africa-Gate, where predictions of drought were based on a claim from a Carbon-trading academic with unsupportable references. Then there was Glacier-Gate, where the threat of glaciers receding were based on two 11 year old magazine articles. Then there was Polar-Bear-Gate, where extinction was being projected, even though populations were increasing in warmer areas. Now photoplankton are entering a ‘death spiral’? Please spare me of this relentless, groundless, drivel masquerading as “science”.

  11. As an avid fisherman I am always rooting for the phytoplankton. Increasing Bering Sea ice resulting in increase in fresh water when it melts has helped the phytoplankton growth. This has been good for the lowly krill which in turn has been good for the Sockeye the last few years. Take a look at this chart, it will blow your mind…..

    http://www.fpc.org/adultsalmon/adultqueries/Adult_Query_Graph_Results.asp

    Sockeye are krill eaters, I am a sockeye eater, hmmmm goood!

  12. Yes, and I have learned fishes are already shrinking to half size.
    Must come from the missing plankton. Terrible.

    May have to order two of them in my beach restaurant for the next meal.

  13. This is a stunning announcement by the Warming Alarmists Deputy Commandante of Phytoplanktonic Propaganda! I mean, really… don’t they get it. They lost.

    No one is listening. No one cares. iPhone antennae are more important that Plytoplankton extinction. It is astonishing that announcements like this take a total suspension of reality to continue.

  14. Another lie.

    At the same time, NASA is reporting that satellite imaging has revealed a dramatic increase in the size and number of low oxygen dead zones in the Earth’s oceans over the last fifty years.

    We can’t have 50 years of satellite reports since they have only offered some reports for 30 years.
    First I will give them a chance to show us reports from 1960 pulled from satellites..

    I do assume with the smoother, homogenizer etc. Jim Hansen at NASA could cook up numbers and fill in gaps.

  15. Fwd from Dr. Ed Berry, of “ClimatePhysics.com”:
    ______
    Believers in global warming who believe they prove their belief true by denigrating and black-listing opposing scientists, would do well to hear this story.

    In 1946, Frank Tashlin’s book and MGM record of “The Bear that wasn’t” began teaching a whole generation of kids about logic in a 10-minute story, enjoyed by all ages. We need this wisdom today.

    (And while newer versions and movies have appeared since, none are as good as the original. Even Frank Tashlin said so. Download and hear the original recording here.)

    The bear, who had hibernated all winter, woke up in the spring to find his forest gone and he was inside a factory. Neither the factory foreman nor the foreman’s bosses all the way up to the president would believe he was a bear. So the president took the bear to a zoo and asked the bears in the zoo,

    “Is this a bear?”

    And the bears in the zoo said,

    “No, he isn’t a bear because if he were a bear he wouldn’t be outside the cage with you, he would be inside the cage with us.”

    Then the president took the bear to a circus and asked the bears in the circus,

    “Is this a bear?”

    And the bears in the circus said,

    “No, he isn’t a bear because if he were a bear he wouldn’t be sitting in a grandstand seat with you, he would be wearing a little hat with a ribbon on it, holding a balloon, and riding a bicycle with us.”

    Today, we have global warming believers who denigrate and black list true scientists, thinking this proves their global warming hypothesis true. And these believers say,

    “No, he is not a scientist because if he were a scientist he wouldn’t be telling you global warming is a fraud, he would be inside the circus with us, wearing a little dunce hat with a ribbon on it, holding a hot-air balloon, and riding the global warming bandwagon with us.”

    The only thing you global warming believers have proved is: You are circus bears.

    Edwin X Berry, PhD
    Atmospheric Physicist
    http://www.climatephysics.com
    American Meteorological Society
    Certified Consulting Meteorologist #180
    American Physical Society
    American Geophysical Union

  16. In a recent essay, “Climate Change, Just What Is That Anyway?” I look at the term “Climate Change”, i.e. what does this term actually mean. From that essay:

    “….Another perfectly good technical term redefined to mislead and misinform. I had been puzzling over this for some time but what prompted my inquire was a public affairs broadcaster on the CBC. The host was interviewing an oceanographer (from Delhousie U.) about the status of plankton populations in the worlds oceans, as measured by sieche disk measurements, since 1900 (2). The oceanographer was using the term in the technical not causative way, noting that his data suggested that plankton growth is less robust as water temperature rises and in some oceans, the North Atlantic for example, plankton populations had significantly declined since the 1950’s.

    He was very careful not to attribute a cause to this correlation, i.e. explain why the water temperature was warmer or cooler then previous. Interesting his data shows that populations are increasing in the Indian Ocean. The impression left at the end of the interview was that AGW was driving this. Even though the researcher repeated several times, the oceanographers could not attribute cause and the driving forces or causes were highly complex and not known. He advised more study. That did not deter the journalist from badgering him to make some kind of climate change prediction. The best he would do is to note that the decline in plankton was undesirable, as it is the basis of the ocean food chain. She finally got him to admit that if we can do something about this temperature rise it would probably be desirable. He would not go further. Good for him. It is always the big “IF” isn’t it. The data the researchers were working with simply could not be used to draw firm conclusions about underlying causes and mechanisms related to ocean temperatures.”

    It is not the objective presentation of data and results but the attribution of cause without knowledge that gives science and scientists a poor reputation.

  17. The author of this study (Boris Worm)

    Lol.

    Sorry Boris.

    Julian Flood
    July 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Very interesting, thanks. So Tiny variations in TSI don’t eliminate the sun as the main driver of climate change after all?

    Shocking! Who’d a thunk it?

  18. An Old Fisherman recently said:

    “Has anyone noticed the size of shrimp, crab legs, and fish these days? Shrimp used to be as big as my hand. Crab Legs (Alaskan) used to be as big as my arm. And fish, the kind that you used to be able to buy in the A&P, fish used to be as big as my leg.

    “Now what do we have? Zilch! Nada! Nichts! Zero! They’re all gone! Shrimp are as big as a finger nail. Crab Legs are as big as a finger. And fish, they don’t even sell fish anymore; I haven’t seen one in years. These people have a point! We need to outlaw all fishing in the world’s oceans! NO FISHING WITHIN 20 MILES!! Heck, make it 100 MILES!

    “And no more filthy beach front condos, vacation homes, roads, pools, shopping centers, hotels, motels, or golf courses, etc, too!

    “And no more ocean vessels either! Not a one! Aircraft Carriers are OK, but none of that filthy commercial stuff!

    “And no more transoceanic commercial air transport either! Use eMail or teleconferencing!

    “You get the idea! We gotta get serious or we’re gonna kill off all the life in the oceans!

    “Right? Right!”

    PS: Seriously, we can certainly do better than we have till now. But I don’t think we need the EPA, the UN, or anyone else to tell us they’re shutting down the world’s oceans and starving a billion people to death.

  19. Hmmm – I wonder how many$$$$ are available to find a cure for this study. Oops may have to redact this remark or perhaps look for some sort of trick !!

  20. I’m afraid I may need to visit my opthamologist; this is such an eyeroller…

    This has got to be a prime example of the quality of “science” that global warming grant monies can buy. Okay, I admit it, that’s just an assumption on my part – that this is an AGW funded study. In any case, this raises so many questions: (damn Nature paywall)

    What criteria was used in evaluating the quality of measurements from the early years of the 110 year period that was looked at?

    How many measurements were made over the course of 110 years? What were the ocean’s conditions of each meaurement site? Stormy with agitated sea? Calm sea under mild sunny conditions? And were the early measurements able to note upwelling conditions?

    How much statistical in-filling was performed to make sure the study was (oh gawd, I’m gonna use that word) robust?

    Okay, so the skeptic in me, bordering on the cynical, sees that this PhD candidate has a well-secured area of study mapped out for himself for the next few decades, as long as the grant monies keep on coming. After all, the world will want to know when the oceans’ ecosystems collapse and vast ocean deserts arise devoid of life, while sea levels rise by the meter to inundate coastlines …

    Is it me or is the AGW mantra, since Climategate, taking on a tone of panic and desperation?

  21. It’s a dillemma. Eating fish would be good for greenhouse gas emissions,
    but is terrible for … fish. I am confused.
    Can’t we ask these guys to provide a to-do-list for all aspects our life?

    06/28/2010 – Reducing the consumption of meat and dairy products … could decrease global greenhouse gas emissions substantially. By 2055 the emissions … could be cut by more than eighty percent, researchers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research find. The results of the modelling study have recently been published in the journal “Global Environmental Change”.

  22. Brian H says:
    July 30, 2010 at 1:01 pm
    latitude;
    And what they do not say is that we could not accelerate it, even if we doubled CO2 production from here forward
    ========================================================

    Seems that way Brian. Every time CO2 levels have been high, the planet went into another ice age. Obviously CO2 does not have enough effect to keep the planet warm, no matter how high it is. In a sane world, people might be more worried about high CO2 levels causing an ice age.

    So the take home message from this article in Nature, is that phyto is starving from lack of nutrients, dead zones are dead because of too much nutrients….

    ….so we need more dead zones or we’re all going to die.

  23. Charles S. Opalek, PE says: at 1:03 pm

    …You forgot coral-island-gate, and coral-reef-gate.

    An Auckland University researcher has offered new hope to the small island nations in the Pacific which have loudly complained their low-lying atolls will drown as “global warming” boosts sea levels. Geographer Associate Professor Paul Kench has measured 27 islands where local sea levels have risen 120mm – an average of 2mm a year – over the past 60 years, and found that four had diminished in size.

    Working with Arthur Webb at the Fiji-based South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, Kench used historical aerial photographs and high-resolution satellite images to study changes in the land area of the islands. They found that the remaining 23 had either stayed the same or grown bigger, according to the research published in a scientific journal, Global and Planetary Change.

    “It has been thought that as the sea level goes up, islands will sit there and drown,” Prof Kench told the New Scientist. “But they won’t. The sea level will go up and the island will start responding”.

    One of the highest profile islands – in a political sense – was Tuvalu, where politicians and climate change campaigners have repeatedly predicted it will be drowned by rising seas, as its highest point is 4.5 meters above sea level. But the researchers found seven islands had spread by more than 3% on average since the 1950s.

    One island, Funamanu, gained 0.44 hectares or nearly 30% of its previous area. And the research showed similar trends in the Republic of Kiribati, where the three main urbanised islands also “grew” – Betio by 30% (36ha), Bairiki by 16.3% (5.8ha) and Nanikai by 12.5% (0.8ha).

    Webb, an expert on coastal processes, told the New Scientist the trend was explained by the fact the islands mostly comprised coral debris eroded from encircling reefs and pushed up onto the islands by winds and waves. The process was continuous, because the corals were alive, he said. In effect, the islands respond to changes in weather patterns and climate – Cyclone Bebe deposited 140ha of sediment on the eastern reef of Tuvalu in 1972, increasing the main island’s area by 10%.

  24. With the cold in the southern hemisphere seas, for sure fitoplankton will die if they not receive a donation of sweaters….

  25. “1 soft science study and the impulse reaction is to panic. ”

    The impulse is to try to exploit the finding to create a life-long career and hopefully new government-funded science research field, with corresponding university departments and government agencies, which will exist in perpetuity until the federal funding dries up.

  26. TSI and satellite results were adjusted to please global warmers…however it is too late now, the Sun decided to adjust itself all the way down to compensate for the lies and so we are already enjoying an avg. 2 degrees less of min. and max. temperatures in the SH.

  27. What I find horrifying is seabed vacuuming to obtain fishmeal for fish farms.
    It needs 8lbs of meal to produce 1lb of farmed fish.

  28. The problem with fish is not global warming but the excessive overfishing encouraged by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

  29. Given the pipeline leak in Michigan, why hasn’t the administration shut down all pipelines until they can be proven 100% safe?

  30. Sounds like he’s actually detecting a decrease in turbidity. Water is becoming clearer. Less polluted water tends to be clearer. What is he actually measuring, and is the change good or bad?

  31. Are they taking glasses into account?

    I know that things look much murkier when I’m not wearing mine. I posit that many more people are wearing glasses now, and that many of the people that took readings in the past would have measured a different level of turbidity if they had been wearing modern glasses.

    Brian

  32. I saw this post from the media more recently and remembered the era defining the complete collapse of the ecosystem due to ozone “holes”.

    Yet, if Stewardship isn’t the promise, explain to me why we “should” dump waste without regard?

    This is a 101 Bio teach and the consequence will end badly unless we can promote the fix instead of the “diatribe”?

  33. http://dalnews.dal.ca/2010/07/28/photoplank.html
    The researchers found that the number of phytoplankton has been decreasing by a rate of about one per cent per year, for the past 110 years. While this might not seem like a large number, this translates into a decline of about 40 per cent since 1950. In total, just under half a million observations were compiled to be able to estimate phytoplankton levels through the years.

    CHEECH: Hey man ! Glad we caught this death spiral in time.
    CHONG: Its really cool man… just like those poor small little cuddly critters.
    CHEECH: We´ll be real famous man!
    CHONG: Yeah! Really cool. The first men in 110 years to play music underwater.
    CHEECH: Hey man! What you doing with my Grateful Dead CD?
    CHONG: Easy man! Just playing those poor little critters some real cool vives…
    CHEECH: But I can’t hear the music man!
    CHONG: Just snort some of this through a rolled up grant application.
    CHEECH: WOW Man! Thats better… I can see everything so clearly now!

  34. I didn’t know the dollhouse was a university.
    I thought it was a chain of gentleman’s clubs.

    Well maybe the same sort of activity is taking place.
    Go figure.

  35. From the abstract in Nature:

    “We conclude that global phytoplankton concentration has declined over the past century; this decline will need to be considered in future studies of marine ecosystems, geochemical cycling, ocean circulation and fisheries.”

    Send more grant money.

    I’m also wondering how many SUVs there were in 1899, the start date for the ‘data’, to cause the decline in phytoplankton levels from then.

  36. The low summer ice years in the middle of this decade led to a tremendous explosion of life all the way up the food chain. Gray whales stayed longer and ate more in the high Arctic. Calf production increased. Bowhead whales (Arctic dwellers) had so much food that researchers suggested that the bowhead could have exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment based on pre-exploitation population estimates.

    The commercial bowhead hunt occurred in the 17th to 19th centuries while the Arctic was coming out of the Little Ice Age and there was much more ice that is normal for the Holocene Interglacial.

    Got that? Less ice, more plankton, more life.

    However, there are some areas where plankton abundance has declined: the gyres, where all the ocean garbage collects. The stuff floating at the surface blocks sunlight from the photic zone. Clean up the ocean; plankton increases; phytoplankton sucks up more CO2; everybody’s happy.

  37. cite> Kate says:
    July 30, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Charles S. Opalek, PE says: at 1:03 pm

    …You forgot coral-island-gate, and coral-reef-gate.

    Wasn’t Anthony asking for suggestions for other topics to gather in one place similar to the arctic ice page?

    Well, how about IPCC howlers??

    A list of the disproven catastrophes that were supposed to befall us?

  38. Isn’t one of the reasons why the Peruvian fishermen so carefully tracked the El Ninos was because the fish populations dropped during those times? And didn’t science show that the reason why the fish dropped during El Ninos was that the cool upwelling from the deep ocean floor reveresed itself? And wasn’t this known before the 1950’s? So what’s new in this “new” study?

  39. The other side of this story, for the “Science” community, is the realization that computer modeling is being used as a benchmark for the extinction of species by the Fishing Industry.

    I’d be happy to post research results from kids under the oversight of teachers who still care (as far north as Alaska) — delivering insightful results based on field research.

    But, it would break your heart to see what “Science” has lost and the real cost?

  40. If 40% of the phytoplankton were dying off, the impact would felt in the entire eco-system of the oceans in dramatic fashion.
    This, like every other fear mongering effort of AGW promoters, will turn out to be wrong.

  41. But what if the Phytoplankton survive and they mutate into a deadly poisonous bloom and destroy everything in all the oceans. It’ll be much, much worse than anyone thought. Our only protection might be to build unshielded nuclear power stations to potentially cause all other life to mutate to safety. This could be our only hope. Earth calling, earth calling…..

  42. Whales eat this plankton. I suspect they can find it and the warmistas aren’t looking very hard. Big fat wales with a lot of blubber.
    the trick behind these obscure claims is that they suspect most people will believe them and many people that don’t won’t travel to sea to check themselves.
    I suspect these authors have very little time on the water directly looking at plankton.

  43. Surely the results of the Secchi disc test must vary according to the eyesight of the people doing the test?

  44. I have an odd idea. Let someone actually measure the phytoplankton population rather than the turbidity of salt water. Proxies seem so convenient for alarmists.

  45. Would some real biologist, perhaps a retired one who doesn’t need to rely on a grant, please sample the water and use a microscopic count – maybe a cooperative effort worldwide to counter this stuff. The biological/ecological sciencs are one of the first of the sciences to be corrupted, following the collapse of social sciences (that group that needs to add the word ‘science’ to its name to bolster its image much like countries who add the oxymoron ‘democratic’ to their names – check out a list) into socialist activism. I fear there may not be any non-activist ecologist left to do an objective study. I fear also that climate science started from the beginning as a ‘humanity’.

  46. Well, as the Warming is natural, then no panic ;-|

    The Plankton will adapt. as I’m sure they have over millions of years of climate change.

    A little off-topic. Joe Bastardi had a new Video entry on this morning about faults in the NOAA way of measuring temperature i the Arctic. It was really interesting. But I noticed this evening the video has ‘vanished’ ? I’ve never seen a video diary of his ‘vanish’ before and I check his blog everyday.

    I hope Accuweather aren’t starting to censor him :-(

    http://www.accuweather.com/video.asp?channel=vbbastaj

  47. The phytoplankton may well be having problems. I just don’t find the “global warming” explanation to be even remotely credible. ENSO regions can experience changes of 7-10C from year to year, and the controlling factor is the nutrients, not the temperature.

  48. The standard cure for hyperventilation is to increase your CO2 levels by putting a bag over your head.

    I’d recommend that they use plastic instead of paper. ;-)

    Thanks again, Rev. Anthony & Co., for being the voices of sanity in the Wacky Warming Wilderness.

  49. OK, do we need a group of people to volunteer to run around the building with their hair on fire?

    Seems like everything is cause for panic with no real data nor reason. I am sticking with the sun, the giver of all energy to planet earth, and the taker of same.

    Isn’t it weird how earth functioned quite well without man poking into everything, making pronouncements of what is clearly not knowable.

  50. Funny how increasing numbers of biologists are becoming proxy climate researchers. Climate is where the grant monies are. If global warming is mostly natural (and I believe it is), why waste millions of taxpayer dollars studying the migratory patterns of butterflies? Perhaps all things should be studied but research is costly so the scientific community should weigh the benefit of such research and what it might reveal against the societal cost (or secure private funding).

    If this Ph.D. candidate had discovered no change in phytoplankton density it would still be a significant finding but it wouldn’t suggest a “world changing catastrophic problem”. No problem, no funding. The CO2 caused AGW myth would have died a natural death over a decade ago had politicians and governments not dumped gobs of money to prove their agreed upon conclusion.

    Science was corrupted when the symbiotic relationship between politics (and money) and scientists developed. Politicians absolutely loved CO2/CAGW theory. it created a “crisis” only government can solve. It’s an excuse to tax and a means for greater control over economies and people. As long as a catastrophic crisis is looming scientists receive taxpayer funds to continue studying the problem. If the cycle is broken at any point the whole thing collapses. If the researchers conclude there is no impending catastrophic crisis the politicians lose interest and the funding goes away. If funding such research were to become politically unpopular “the problem” would suddenly become far less important to the researchers.

    Consider how much money will be required for “further research” into the “phytoplankton problem”. Personally, I’m jumping aboard early as a phytoplankton denier.

  51. By the way, how about them Maldive islands, are they still above the surface? or have the entire population drowned? It must have, haven’t heard from then in a while…

  52. I’ve used the Secchi disk to measure water transparency. It was a pretty good device before the age of electronic measurements that produced reasonably consistent data when nothing else was available. Typically it’s used in lakes and ponds, but will work in marine situations. Training is minimal and anybody can become proficient in a minute or two. The real issue, however, is that there is no way to link that data to phytoplankton density without sampling the water for organisms. Light can be limited by dissolved substances and zoo-plankton. Surface roughness can reduce the depth of disappearance as well. If you want consistency with measurements a century old, then use the Secchi disk. If you want precision, then calibrate it with a photometer and figure out the likely uncertainty of old measurements.

  53. Phytoplankton Phyt song

    Phyt-Oh-plankton, phyt!
    In the sea, in the day and the night.
    Phyt-Oh-plankton, phyt!
    CO2 will never give you a fright.

    After aeons in the biosphere
    Higher temps, CO2, cause no fear.
    But when both seen by a warmist eye,
    You become another catastrophic lie.

    Phyt-Oh-plankton, phyt!
    Don’t dismay and you will have a chance
    Phyt-Oh-plankton, phyt!
    On its grave, global warming we will dance.

  54. From the blurb at Nature: “We observe declines in eight out of ten ocean regions, and estimate a global rate of decline of ~1% of the global median per year. Our analyses further reveal interannual to decadal phytoplankton fluctuations superimposed on long-term trends. These fluctuations are strongly correlated with basin-scale climate indices, whereas long-term declining trends are related to increasing sea surface temperatures.”

    Fluctuations superimposed on long term trends. Have we heard that before? Sounds like an exercise in data mining to come up with something. Trying to milk a nice linear trend line out of a sine wave?

  55. Oh my lord, Oh my lord, The panic has spread to Washington DC!

    Walter and Ben Jeffries at nonais.org report a very serious out break of Foot-in-Mouth Disease in the Nation’s Capital:

    WASHINGTON — Widespread outbreaks of Foot-in-Mouth Disease (FMD) have prompted government officials to shut down all transportation of workers in the tri-state DC metro area in order to prevent this tragic infestation from spreading to other states as Congress breaks for the summer. Police and transit authorities backed by the National Guard have setup road blocks and housing along major travel routes. Smaller roads are being patrolled to prevent escapes as the heat climbs.

    This could not have come at a more inopportune time because millions of potential carriers must now be quarantined in Washington, DC over the summer heat wave. The only alternative is depopulation, a move secretary Vilsack said was “undesirable but may be necessary to protect the nation’s supply of politicians from infection.”

    …..“The silent first stage infection is invisible which is what makes this disease so insidious. However, the second stage infection is quite easy to tell if a politician has FMD – they’ll have one or both feet in their mouth. Sometimes a hand as well. Some of them are two-faced so this is quite easily accomplished. They drool a lot too. It is really quite disgusting. Fortunately they can’t talk and have FMD at the same time so this place actually gets very quiet during these outbreaks.” Dr. Chompin was one of the point men during the eradication effort in 1992 and again in 2008. “It was a mess but we had to do what we had to do to save the nation’s political body. Even if that meant deposing of perfectly healthy politicians because they could have been infected and spread that to others when they went home for the session break. I’m just glad we caught it in time!” When asked if he thought that this outbreak would result in a similar switch in party power Chompin said that it could go either way. “We’ll try to save them if we can but we can’t take the risk of having these infected animals get out in the wild. Really, it is for their own good. We will do what is right and be very humane about it.”

    Read the rest at Report FMD Outbreak in Capitol and enjoy Ben’s cartoon too.

  56. More stupid research by knuckle headed scientists. There ought to be a limit on what the government can dole out taxpayer money on idiotic research.

  57. About sums it up. Another fireman looking for the living room fire by carefully searching the garage whilst wearing a blindfold.

    Desperation.

  58. Seriously….

    Nearly 500,000 readings over 110 years.
    Lets be generous: 50,000 readings per year.

    Lets assume 5 readings in each test location per year.
    So we have 10,000 test locations.

    A Secchi disk is 8 inches in diameter.
    A Secchi disk has an area of just over 50 square inches.

    10,000 test locations of 50 square inches.
    So we have 500,000 square inches of tested ocean
    Which is equivalent to 0.000322 square kilometres…

    And the oceans only cover 335,258,000 square kilometres.

  59. From the press release:
    “Preliminary conclusions suggest that rising ocean temperatures are the leading cause of the decline. “As the water temperature rises, the ocean becomes more stable which limits the nutrients present in the water. This in turn limits the amount of phytoplankton,” explains Mr. Boyce.”
    =======
    But,……..water temps are cooling!
    Not to worry, the research will be archived, for future reference.

  60. Next up the Church of Climatology buys the rights to that epic “The Green Slime” and converts it into an infomercial aimed at preschool children. See what happens when the CLIMATE CHANGE’d phytoplankton fight back!

  61. Distinguished fisheries oceanographer Alan Longhurst eviscerated Boris Worm’s 2006 Science paper in an article in Fisheries Research in 2007 (Volume 86, Issue 1, August 2007, Pages 1-5) “Doubt and certainty in fishery science: Are we really headed for a global collapse of stocks?”. His article raised many of the same quality control and peer review concerns that are often repeated here concerning climate science. It’s worth a read but is behind a paywall. I was at a conference with a group of fisheries science history experts when Boris Worm’s predictions of a massive catastrophic loss in fish populations was making newspaper articles – our reaction within seconds of hearing this news was a collective eye-roll, since fisheries problems and population conditions are much more complex than portrayed in Worm’s idiotic fear-mongering.

  62. Am I missing something here ? The suggestion is that the turbidity of the oceans is decreasing, the ocean clarity is improving ?
    That implies there is less pollution and all those microscopic bits of plastic that are supposed to be filling our oceans, really aren’t so bad ?

  63. Oh and anyone who snorkels knows there are massive shifts in visibility everywhere you get wet. I’m certain others here too have seen agricultural or industrial runoff drastically alter things throughout their own waterways all the way to the ocean itself. They are spinning real environmental issues into sessions of crying AGW “wolf” and one of these days the rest of the planet will just tune out a REAL warning merely out of reflex.

  64. @Green Sand They usually didn’t bother in the middle ages. After all Cesare Borgia was the son of Pope Alexander VI. He also had a sister and 2 brothers. He was used as an example in the Prince by Machiavelli. He left one of his henchmen de Orca in the Romangia with a somewhat split personality shall we say.

    Then of course we have the potentially mythological Pope Joan.

    When it comes to religion, people are free to believe whatever gives their life meaning. Who am I to be a thief and steal their meaning of life. But when it comes to science, sadly the standards are best expressed by the principal of the Boston Normal Gymnastic School for Women, Mr. William James: “Truth is what works.” suitably amended to the fact that the Truth will change when we find it no longer works and so have to produce a theory that better explains all we know.

  65. Brian says:
    July 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    “Are they taking glasses into account?
    I know that things look much murkier when I’m not wearing mine. I posit that many more people are wearing glasses now, and that many of the people that took readings in the past would have measured a different level of turbidity if they had been wearing modern glasses.
    Brian”

    So,….you’re saying glasses cause global warming, too!!??!!??!!…..OMG!!!! IT’S WORST THAN I THOUGHT!!!!!

  66. It is amazing how you can tell a paper is wrong without having read it. Pure genius I guess. For those of you who are not in complete denial, the paper can be found here: http://www.nature.com.proxy.lib.siu.edu/nature/journal/v466/n7306/full/nature09268.html

    If you don’t have access here are some news stories:

    Christan Science Monitor
    http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2010/0728/Vital-ocean-phytoplankton-a-casualty-of-global-warming

    Wall Street Journal (free)
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748704895004575395273977526844.html

    BBC
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-10781621

    LA Times
    http://www.latimes.com/news/science/wire/sns-ap-us-sci-declining-plankton,0,6293116.story

    Scientific American
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=phytoplankton-population

    These reporters do not just read press releases. They talk to the researchers and other scientists in the field. It is foolhardy to dismiss something that may be important because it doesn’t jive with your politics or pet conspiracy theory.

    PS: For those of you in the U.S. who are not professors or scientists there may be a way to get access to Nature and many other journals. At a public university in your state you can often buy a library membership. You should be given an access code and then you’ll be able to read anything their library has online access to.

  67. Now you might not take this seriously…
    But believe me… it is… because there are problems!
    Especially if you have been taking Secchi readings for 110 years…
    Problems like the deterioration in my eyesight with glasses, contacts and bi-focals…
    Problems like remembering where to take my reading each year…
    Problems like clouds, sunshine, wind, rain, hail, snow and waves getting in my way…
    Problems like ships, boats, tourism, urban runoff, industrial pollution and sewage…
    Problems like staying alive because life is too short for this sort of garbage.

  68. Every professional, objective, marine biologist must be SQWorming as they read this cultist drivel.
    regards

  69. @vigilantfish: The article by Alan Longhurst you cite was not peer reviewed. It was “Received 28 January 2007; accepted 4 February 2007.” In fact a version of it was rejected by Science. I am not saying Longhurst is wrong and Worm is correct – it is not my field. However, Worm’s article can be found here:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/314/5800/787

    The abstract is free and you can register with Science for free and get articles since 1997 that are least one year old.

  70. “The standard cure for hyperventilation is to increase your CO2 levels by putting a bag over your head.”

    I cfan ftell ifts gphettngk vaurmrr, kann u heer mi fnow?

  71. @julian flood

    I know just enough about C3/C4 genotype to get me in trouble.

    Hadn’t heard anyone say that C3/C4 photosynthetic pathway is something readily selectable. Interesting.

    Are you saying it’s

    1) something like gene induction via methylation (epigenetic) which can act very quickly like fungi can rapidly adapt their suite of enzymes to different substrates or

    2) that higher taxonomic groups include species of both C3/C4 so it’s just a matter of selection favoring one substantially similar species over another as CO2 level changes or

    3) that random mutation & selection over short time frames would be the means of adaptation

  72. Malaga View says:
    July 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm
    Seriously….

    Nearly 500,000 readings over 110 years.
    Lets be generous: 50,000 readings per year.

    Lets assume 5 readings in each test location per year.
    So we have 10,000 test locations.

    A Secchi disk is 8 inches in diameter.
    A Secchi disk has an area of just over 50 square inches.

    10,000 test locations of 50 square inches.
    So we have 500,000 square inches of tested ocean
    Which is equivalent to 0.000322 square kilometres…

    And the oceans only cover 335,258,000 square kilometres.”

    This should be right next to the dictionary definition of “Hitting a Nail on the Head”

  73. Is that diatom picture really a picture of a disorganized office drawer?

  74. Not sure why this commentary is so strongly anti-science. In order to critique any published report, the first step is to read the article and the second step is to understand what is being reported. In my view, it’s arrogant and a bit silly to make fun of a paper that you haven’t read or understood, especially one based on so many years of extensive data. Another weak approach is to exagerate the author’s claims and to then claim that the author must be exagerating his results. The main claim is a decline of about 50% in phytoplankton abundance ove a period of about 100 years. I have published a good deal in this field and the paper seems quite credible to me. It would be interesting to read well considered criticism but I did not read much of that in the comments above.

  75. To Mike (July 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm)

    I take this issue seriously, but I my reaction is that I find it very hard to believe that global warming could in such a short time, with such a relatively small temperature increase, cause such a massive loss in phytoplankton. A

    fter all, we were 1 to 2 degrees warmer in the Holocene optimum 8,000 years ago, and 2 to 3 degrees warmer in the last interglacial — did we almost run out of plankton then? We have lots of ocean cores using various tiny organisms as sea surface temperature proxies, and I don’t recall any of them discussing shortages of phytoplankton.

    There is also the matter of internal inconsistencies. The Nature article suggests that among the areas with large declines are areas near the poles. Yet those areas wouldn’t have warm waters overlying cold waters, preventing nutrients coming to the surface, as you do see in El Nino years in the Eastern Pacific, and as you did back in warmer eras like the Cretaceous. The waters are all relatively cold and there is lots of storminess near the poles today.

    The BBC article you linked may have the explanation, e.g., an alternative explanation. Here is the relevant passage:

    …Carl-Gustaf Lundin, head of the marine programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), suggested there could be other factors involved – notably the huge expansion in open-ocean fishing that has taken place over the century.

    “Logically you would expect that as fishing has gone up, the amount of zooplankton would have risen – and that should have led to a decline in phytoplankton,” he told BBC News.

    “So there’s something about fishing that hasn’t been factored into this analysis.”…

    This explanation makes sense to me. Take away fish, you get more zooplankton. That mean more grazing on phytoplankton. The big increase in open ocean fishing has taken place in many sub-polar areas, where you the Nature article’s explanation, that there would be warm water overlaying nutrient rich cooler waters, doesn’t make sense.

    So it seems to me that are most likely to have here another knock-off effect of overfishing. For those who don’t think that humans have overfished, accelerating in the last 50 years, I suggest reading the book “Cod” for starters.


  76. This is all over Secchi disk transparency measurement changes? Are you guys kidding me?

    A PhD candidate runs nothing but Secchi disk transparency measurements without dropping a Niskin bottle to the same depths in the same locations to take water samples and actually count the friggin’ plankton while identifying the species, the water temperatures, and the chemical characteristics of the ambient liquid so as to say whether or not there really is any kind of change in phytoplankton populations?

    That this got published in Nature – much less got past this schmuck’s supervising instructors – is absolutely astonishing. [snip – off color ~mod]

  77. I’m doing my part to save the phytoplankton by consuming more krill oil supplements to get my recommended daily allowance of Omega-3 fatty acids. Since krill feed on phytoplankton, the massive harvesting of Antarctic krill to make Omega-3 fatty-acid oil supplements should have a positive net impact on phytoplankton populations. The best thing about krill oil (aside from saving the phytoplankton) is that it doesn’t leave a “fishy” after taste in my mouth like fish oil pills often do.

  78. I have a recommendation. We should designate all “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Events” by CAX, where “X” is used in its algebraic sense–i.e., to represent an unknown. That way, (a) the advocates of global warming won’t have to spend time thinking up reasons why AGW morphed into CAGW morphed into CACC, and (b) all future man-made wickedness is covered–e.g., “X” could stand for the Phytoplankton death spiral, or for Mexican northern migration, or for coral reef loss, or for the oceans becoming less basic (ocean acidification), etc.

  79. Julian Flood says:
    July 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Incidentally, phyos have diatoms as their most ferocious competitor

    ?

    Last time I looked, diatoms were also phytoplankton. (As are foraminiferans, dinoflagellates, microflagellates, radiolarians etc…)

  80. BillD says:
    July 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm
    Not sure why this commentary is so strongly anti-science.

    What we are against is thinly disguised political opportunism lying behind somewhat dubious science. I haven’t read the paper yet (no time) but OK lets say Secci disc measured turbidity has declined over a few decades. The most probable explanation is variation in ocean circulation – we all know that oceans exhibit multidecadal oscillations (PDO, AMO, SO etc…) resulting in cyclical changes in processes such as upwelling which strongly impact on surface plankton concentrations. So for a genuine politically disinterested scientist, the automatic assumption from this small turbidity decrease is that it is due to oceanic changes. But of course the genuine politically disinterested scientist is an endangered species, displaced by the Boris Worm type scientist who are presumably attracted to science via political activism by the smell of political influence.

  81. Mike says:
    It is amazing how you can tell a paper is wrong without having read it. Pure genius I guess. For those of you who are not in complete denial, the paper can be found here: http://www.nature.com.proxy.lib.siu.edu/nature/journal/v466/n7306/full/nature09268.html

    At that site, we find:

    Access to this resource is restricted to SIUC faculty, staff and students.
    For access, please enter your SIUC Network ID (ie SIU850000000) number.

    And just a general remark: We are sick and tired of ‘studies’ being trumpeted around the media, where the original is behind a paywall not to be checked. I have taken the effort to extract half a dozen of these trash pieces and in every case I found just that: scientific trash. The correct default position is the null hypothesis, so if the paper has legs, it is incumbent on you to extract the evidence and present it to us. When there is an industry worth billions that exists just to finance one-sided ‘research’, the sane and proper thing to do is to assume that all ‘research’ emanating from those places is rubbish, until proven otherwise.

    As for your remark: “These reporters do not just read press releases. They talk to the researchers and other scientists in the field.” You may have your secret weapon: more of that and we’ll all die laughing.

  82. Julian Flood says:

    No doubt you are familiar with planktonic carbon-fixation paths, but let me remind you anyway. Most plants, phytoplankton included are C3, a process which is discriminatory against the heavier carbon isotopes, so a richly-fed ocean will tend to take up a slightly greater proportion of the light isotope 12C. C3 requires a good level of trace elements, including… zinc and chromium, IIRC, but don’t quote me on that… and without those trace elements the phytos which use C4 will begin to dominate. Indeed, certain flexible phytos will change in those circumstances to C4 from C3. C4 uses much more C13/14 than C3. …

    Julian, that theory is extremely interesting. I have taken the liberty of repeating it here:

    http://peacelegacy.org/articles/alternative-cause-global-warming

  83. @John says: July 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    John,

    You raise some good points. My comments were more directed at the people who talk about “knuckle headed scientists.” I should be careful not to paint with too broad a brush. Although the authors do discuss alternative explanations no one should take this paper as the final word. Of course more work needs to be done. But neither should it be dismissed out of hand as many here are want to do.

    As to the point you raise about past warmer periods, the concern about AGW is not that life cannot flourish at higher or lower global mean temperatures, but that the rate of change is so fast ecological systems we depend upon will suffer. In a thousand years maybe the plankton will come back. But many people depend on fish and shell fish as a part of their diets now. “Marine sources provide about 20% of the animal protein eaten by humans. Another 5% is provided indirectly via livestock fed with fish. 60% of fish consumption is by the developing world.” [http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/fisheries/fisheries.html]

    As to the polar areas, there is still a temperature gradient as you go down. If the water on the top becomes warmer it is slower to sink and push water from the bottom up. If the oceans warmed uniformly with respect to depth there would not be an issue. Now I would guess that the amount of plankton in the arctic is less than in warmer regions, but the paper refers to the rate of change.

    I do not doubt we can adapt to climate change. But it is likely to costly and for some deadly. I remember reading about Keynes warming that we should forgive Germany’s obligation to pay WWI reparations. He feared that pressing Germany to pay would lead to a collapse and another war. He was ignored. After all Germany was bad and owed us the money. We should have listened. Now we should listen to what the scientists are trying to tell us. The cost of climate change is very likely to exceed the cost of switching to alternative energy sources – something we will have to do sooner or later anyway.

  84. In my view, it appears that the standard being used for this type of story is to sound the bell of alarm on the slightest possibility that someone may have found a real case of anthropogenic damage to the planet. I believe this continual cry of “Wolf!-Wolf!-Wolf!” can only damage their credibility and potentially cause a real call to danger to be ignored.

    At the very least, I think all such articles should include a full analysis of why there might not be any real cause for alarm.

  85. @Rich Matarese says: July 30, 2010 at 8:08 pm “A PhD candidate runs nothing but Secchi disk transparency measurements without dropping a Niskin bottle to the same depths in the same locations to take water samples and actually count the friggin’ plankton while identifying the species, the water temperatures, and the chemical characteristics of the ambient liquid so as to say whether or not there really is any kind of change in phytoplankton populations?”

    If you read the paper you would see that they did do these sort of things to gauge current Secchi disk measurements. They also made comparisons with satellite measurements. It is your own bias that leads to assume you know what they should have done and that they did not do it without reading the paper. Confront your inner biases. Not every research paper is sound (agreed with some of the criticisms of the paper on Mexican immigration although not with demonizing the authors). This work will need to be verified by others. But it is serious.

  86. “Microscopic life crucial to the marine food chain is dying out. The consequences could be catastrophic.”

    Of course as Steven Goddard pointed out, if phytoplankton is Cambrian, then they have survived quite a few mass extinctions on the earth already (end of Permian, end of Cretaceous, two in the Cenozoic, for example). And the diatom alone has managed to radiate into 250,000 species during that time. So this statement may go into the pile where they put the prediction that “snow would be a thing of the past.”

    But it’s not just their survival that commands respect – these single-celled creatures are pulling off a marvelous feat called biomineralization.

    “The term biomineral refers not only to a mineral produced by organisms, but also to the fact that almost all of these mineralized products are composite materials comprised of both mineral and organic components. Furthermore, having formed under controlled conditions, biomineral phases often have properties such as shape, size, crystallinity, isotopic and trace element compositions quite unlike its inorganically formed counterpart. The term ‘biomineral’ reflects all of this complexity.

    Figure 1 illustrates this by comparing part of a single calcite crystal formed by an echinoderm to synthetic single crystals of calcite. [page 5]

    Not bad for a single cell to direct the process of crystallization into such elaborate forms and compositions.

    “The future of nanotechnology will be guided by the knowledge gained from discovering how different life forms control the progression of biomineralization, the process by which bones, teeth and shells are formed.” Dr. Gary Greenburg

  87. Why is this so surprising? SST’s have increased, and as Sea water is stratified via temperature, the warm layer of water has thickened, leaving Phytoplankton, which float at set levels, further away from the cold, nutrient bearing layer of water, meaning less nutrients thus less population.

  88. Ron,

    My apologies for the bad link. Here is the abstract which is free:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v466/n7306/abs/nature09268.html

    I agree with you that the press often mangles science articles. They tend to treat it like crime reporting. But there are good source out there like Science News, Scientific American and, although you won’t agree, the NYT science section. Even so the intelligent reader needs to be aware that no one study is likely to be definitive. But, unlike debates of political values or religious beliefs, scientific debates tend to be settled over time. It can be hard to distinguish between real debates like why the dinos went extinct and pseudo debates like creationism. There is much to be learned and debated in climate science. But a few things have solidified: the world is warming largely due to our GHG emissions; this is going to have an array of effects over the coming decades most of which will be unpleasant for us. Many economists think we can stiff away from fossil fuels without excessive economic losses; here there is far less certainty of course. Maybe we won’t be able to do it. I think we owe to future generations to try.

  89. The author of this study (Boris Worm) also reported last year “if fishing continued at the same rate, all the world’s seafood stocks would collapse by 2048”

    2048? Oh, I think he means the Himalayan Glacier Trout.


  90. Mike writes:

    If you read the paper you would see that they did do these sort of things [water samples taken at appropriate depths to analyze plankton species and gain precise counts and to carry out analyses of temperatures and chemical compositions in order] to gauge current Secchi disk measurements.

    Not being a subscriber to Nature and unwilling to suffer the cost of penetrating the paywall put up by the publisher, I had not read the paper. Of direct observation, only the Secchi disk methodology was mentioned in the Dalhousie University press release, and while “satellite measurements” were breezily discussed, my personal “bias” as an individual with direct experience of undergraduate study in marine biology (including one project in which we made ourselves a Niskin bottle and employed it to study plankton blooms in a tidal estuary) gave me good and sufficient reason to express concern that far more significant information had simply not been gathered and reported.

    Wouldn’t be the first time that kind of thing had happened, would it?

    When the predominant practice of the “global warming” cabal has, for three full decades, been suppressio veri, suggestio falsi, a high index of suspicion is at all times the proper default condition to maintain.

  91. phlogiston says:
    quote
    Last time I looked, diatoms were also phytoplankton. (As are foraminiferans, dinoflagellates, microflagellates, radiolarians etc…)
    unquote

    Sorry, truncation for brevity. I should have said ‘calcium carbonate type phytos’. But that’s only because I can’t spell ‘calcareous’. If you like puzzles, check the recent history of radiolarian skeletons — I don’t understand it.

    Dave Springer says:
    quote
    I know just enough about C3/C4 genotype to get me in trouble.
    unquote

    Snap!

    quote
    Hadn’t heard anyone say that C3/C4 photosynthetic pathway is something readily selectable. Interesting.
    unquote

    I got irritated when I read ‘it must be this because we can’t think of other explanations’ type arguments. I found… I think it was five… different ways that the C isotope might be made to vary, all biological. I don’t think that the research has been done, so it’s all just handwaving like most climate science.

    Some phytos (yes, yes, pholigiston, sorry, calcareous phytos) are C3 obligate, some C4, some can switch pathways from one to the other. No mutation is needed to change the populations from one type to another, it’s just population dynamics, with one species replacing another as conditions vary. It should be possible to check historical changes in plankton species, but the way the paper here was written it didn’t need to do that. I wish anyone luck with a grant proposal for research which might show that the anthropogenic isotope signal has been created by nutrient changes in the oceans.

    A couple of other things: Secchi is the ‘canali on Mars’ man (I think he was seeing his own retinal veins and I once proposed an experiment which involved a computer screen, a darkened room and two pints of home brew); more on topic, diatoms are described as having a CAM-like carbon system which again is less discriminatory against heavier isotopes, so they, too, should be contributing to the ‘anthropogenic’ signal.

    Excuse a little lecture (a general one, not directed at the posts I’ve been replying to), but the reaction of anyone to the ‘we can’t think of anything else so it must be’ argument should be outrage and a determination to do just that, think of some other explanation. It may be bloody-mindedness, but it’s how science should be.

    One of the things that got me wound up about climate science was watching a student trying to fund her own PhD research into carbon fixation in a little understood group of phytos. Her grant finished and, while politicians and senior scientists were spouting about the greatest threat ever ever ever to the planet, she was refused an extension and could not get income support because she was ‘not available for work’, ie ‘too busy furthering the sort of knowledge which might end up saving the planet’. It was then I realised that no-one was interested in the real science, just the grandstanding. She was a real scientist, she did it anyway without support.

    Similarly with the Gulf oil spill — a perfect opportunity to find out what a polluted sea surface does to the heat budget, aerosol production etc. 20 billion spent, no research that I’ve seen yet. Let’s hope the satellites have got some stuff.

    JF
    (I will spare everyone the overarching theory, my grand theory of global warming, the Kriegesmarine hypoth… [noises off, muffled thumps, silence])

  92. Hey! There is nothing wrong with estrogen. The problem is testosterone and the ballsy claims that go with it.

  93. Henry Chance: the quote you lifted from the article is a total misread of the source. The source basically says that “dead zones” (marine areas with low dissolved oxygen) have increased over the past half-century. According to the source, increased particulate organic matter can indicate where “dead zones” might be found. Pretty bad reporting by the Examiner on that one.

    Gary wrote, but a lot of others here don’t get something:

    “The real issue, however, is that there is no way to link that data to phytoplankton density without sampling the water for organisms. Light can be limited by dissolved substances and zoo-plankton.”

    This isn’t right. In the open ocean, the only thing that’s out there in sufficient numbers to affect light transmission is phytoplankton and stuff that comes from phytoplankton, i.e., phytoplankton remnants. (Not true near the coasts, where you get colored river effluent and sediments.)

    A page from the Handbook of Optics

    Also, by having large numbers of measurements, over a long period of time, you get the averaging effect of large numbers of observations that strongly tends toward the actual correct value. A proper Secchi depth is taken with multiple observers, which compensates for differences in visual acuity, and should be taken when the Sun is high in the sky (though that isn’t always done).

    I’ve participated in lake Secchi depth surveys on power plant reservoir lakes in the Carolinas. There are even Web pages that test your abilities, to improve results for unskilled observers. It’s a legitimate measurement that provides useful information. So while there’s probably a lot of room for discussion of why this decline is happening, on a prima facie reading this paper doesn’t appear to be nearly as bad as a lot of the commenters here think it is (and as at least one commenter noted, it’s probably always a good idea to read something before passing final judgement on it).

  94. A question for stevengoddard, who wrote:

    “We also know that phytoplankton have been around for billions of years, surviving average global temperatures 10C higher and CO2 levels 20X higher than the present.”

    Question: are the phytoplankton living now the same types as the phytoplankton that lived under those conditions? The reason I ask is that various places in the ocean (the Black Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Bering Sea) have at times in the recent past had major species shifts in their dominant phytoplankton groups. These shifts appear to be related to temperature and nutrient supply. There have been associated fisheries shifts, partly because apparently the zooplankton that are major fish food items are used to feeding on certain types of phytoplankton. When the phytoplankton change, the zooplankton go elsewhere (or just decline), and the fish populations don’t fare very well when that happens. So merely “survivability” might not be the only important factor when conditions change significantly. What do you think?

    I think that sometimes these issues require more examination than “hey, life finds a way”. Yeah, life finds a way to survive major extinction events, but paleontology seems to show that things end up a whole lot different after a major extinction event compared to the way they were before the extinction. If I’m wrong on that, when was the last time you saw a titanothere in a zoo?

  95. Phytoplankton populations are heavily dependent on the amount of soluble iron in sea water.

    Unfortunately, man’s fishing activities have reduced the number of fish, sharks and whales in the oceans, so there is less fish, shark and whale poop than a 100 years ago, hence less soluble iron, therefore less of an essential element required for phytoplankton growth and so there are probably less phytoplankton.

    Placing dams on our largest rivers probably has not helped much either.

    There are many references to this in Google – here are a few:

    http://disc.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/oceancolor/additional/science-focus/ocean-color/soiree.shtml

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18807-whale-poop-is-vital-to-oceans-carbon-cycle.html

    http://lgmacweb.env.uea.ac.uk/green_ocean/publications/Colim/SundaHuntsman97.pdf

    The solution to the problem of declining phytoplankton populations, if that problem does exist, is to dump a few hundred thousand tonnes of soluble iron each year into those parts of the oceans which support our most important fish populations.

    Of course, a few tens of trillion dollars in extra taxes to push our economies back into the Stone Age in the name of CO2 and global warming might also work.

    As a scientist, I think the first solution makes more sense – presumably most politicians would opt for the latter option.

  96. RE: Mike: (July 30, 2010 at 10:23 pm) “But a few things have solidified: the world is warming largely due to our GHG emissions; …”

    I do not think this is solid at all. All I think we can say is that global temperatures have increased slightly since 1880 in conjunction with a CO2 concentration increase only sufficient to cause about a 0.45 deg K raw temperature increase, as indicated by the MODTRAN online radiation calculator.

    As long as no one has been able to explain how and why other much greater pre-technical era climate fluctuations have occurred, such as the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age, the proof that the recent CO2 increase has really caused the modest modern temperature rise since 1880 is lost in the noise of uncertainty.

  97. Phytoplankton dying?

    Well, if they are worried about the global supply of Soylent Green, then I’m sure that the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement knows an excellent substitute…

  98. Oakden Wolf

    Do you have any evidence that there has been a “major shift” in temperatures? Even Hansen’s bloated numbers only show 0.65 degrees since 1880. By contrast, ENSO temperatures have changed ten degrees in less than a year.

  99. BillD says:
    July 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm
    Yours is the first sensible comment since I started down the list and was about to give up. I’ve wondered for a while when the issue of phytoplankton would be raised in this forum in vitriolic fashion.

  100. The “global dimming” phenomenon reported some years ago had the interesting twist that in recent years, in developed nations in particular (Europe, North America) the dimming had reversed due to clean air measures.

    It a similar thing possible with the oceans? The reduction on raw sewage dumping could have had a significant effect on water clarity, and apparently this is the main thing measured by this disk thingy that makes them conclude the plankton are dying.

  101. Fuzzylogic19

    You do realize that there are other disciplines in science, besides the tightly controlled, irrational belief system which has come to typify “climate science.”

  102. >>The standard cure for hyperventilation is to increase your
    >>CO2 levels by putting a bag over your head.

    Even better if you tie it around your neck with a cord, and leave it there for 15 minutes. It sure cures any worries and concerns you may have about AGW.

    .

  103. The idea that less phytoplankton means that the “phytoplankton are dying” is way off base. Rather, production (growth) has been reduced by less nutrient availability (which means nitrogen in most of the world’s oceans). The article is not saying that phytoplankton are dying off or going extinct.

    Those of you who have pointed out that El Ninos lead to less phytoplankton due to less upwelling have got the authors’ of this studies mechanisms just right. This also explains why tropical oceans have very low plankton production and are typically clear and blue. The thermal stratification of lakes and oceans is very sensitive to water temperature. Moreover, the change in water density per degree change in water temperature is signficantly greater at warm temperatures (>20oC).

    Fish populations through their effects on zooplankton could also affect phytoplankton. However, most of the fish that have been depleted in the world’s oceans are the larger fish that eat smaller fish and not the smaller fish that eat most of the zooplankton (yes I know that whales and a few large fish are plankton feeders).

    The results of this study are not really new, but the strength and consistency of the long term trend is surprising. Some of the best scientific work these days is based on summarizing and reanalyzing the work of earlier studies–in this case, taking data from hundreds or thousands of earlier studies. In general, this kind of synthetic work does not require the ship time and grant funding of a new individual oceanograhic study, but it provides an important overview and summary of previous work.

  104. to Mike @ July 30, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Mike, thanks for your links.

    I agree with you that you can’t just dismiss a study like this out of hand.

    I don’t automatically dismiss the science itself (the 40% reduction), although if you read some of the better articles about it, you realize that there are fairly large areas, especially in the Southern Ocean, where there wasn’t enough data, so they excluded the areas from the analysis. That could mean, since sub-Antarctic regions are one major place where major plankton blooms occur, that they have under estimated current plankton growth. So it would be great if we could find a method to verify a loss of plankton by another means. For instance, could we determine whether there have been commensurate losses of oxygen in the atmosphere for the 60 years during which most of the phytoplankon losses are said to have occurred?

    My main problem isn’t that secchi disks are bad science per se, or that the readers of the disks weren’t adequately trained. I don’t have a dog in that fight.

    My main problem is that the purported reason for the decline didn’t make sense to me. I understand about thermal overlay, and I understand that it occurs in much hotter climates than we have today, and toward the tropics. I googled and couldn’t find any support for the notion that the difference in temps between the late 1800s and today would cause thermal overlay in polar regions. Yet the polar regions are among the areas with considerably less phytoplankton growth. My BS meter was ringing loudly.

    The overfishing hypothesis makes much more sense. I hadn’t realized it until reading the BBC account of the study, but zooplankton are major targets of many fish populations. Take away fish, you get more zooplankton. If this happens, you get more zooplankton grazing on phytoplankton. Bingo!

    Overfishing is very well accepted. Look at the collapses of New England and California fisheries in the past 40 years, and for a longer term perspective, read “Cod,” which explains that it has taken about 10 centuries to reduce what once was an incredibly abundant fish all over northern waters to one which can no longer be fished, and can barely be found, on the East coast of the US and Canada. The grand banks off Nova Scotia used to be a prime fishing area for cod. It was so fished out by about 1990 that the Canadian government finally was able to institute a ban on fishing cod, so that hopefully they could come back. But they haven’t come back.

    And open ocean fisheries have exploded in the last 50 years, with factory ships everywhere it seems.

    A moral here is that scientists sometimes get things right – in fact, in my opinion, more often than not. They warned of collapses of fishing stocks for many years before the collapses actually happened. Fishermen only agreed to bans on fishing when they could barely find their target fish. And the bans in some cases have been very successful at bringing back the target fish — striped bass on the mid-Atlantic coast, for example.

    Because much science in the end is accurate, it took me a long time to come to the reluctant conclusion that a lot of climate change science in various ways is “bent,” it always has the one cause of CO2, climate change, etc. I was instantly suspicious of the conclusions of this article (climate change causes 40% reduction in phytoplankton!) because I’ve seen this movie, this hockey stick, this Himalayan glacier disappearance, this 50% reduction in North African rainfall by 2020 — I’ve seen this all before. And I found it laughable that with all the temperature cycling that has gone before, that phytoplankton are this sensitive.

    That’s why I felt I knew that the climate change explanation was wrong, even if the 40% reduction was right (which still needs to be verified, it’s just one study). But I do buy the overfishing explanation, because it comports with science that has not been politically distorted, and which is accurate, in my view.

  105. John says:
    July 31, 2010 at 6:44 am
    to Mike @ July 30, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Mike, thanks for your links.

    I agree with you that you can’t just dismiss a study like this out of hand.

    I don’t automatically dismiss the science itself (the 40% reduction), although if you read some of the better articles about it, you realize that there are fairly large areas, especially in the Southern Ocean, where there wasn’t enough data, so they

    John:

    Here is a problem with your “over fishing hypothesis.” Let’s take the cod fishery in the northeastern US and eastern Canada (specifically George’s Bank) that you cite. The collapse of the cod and other demersal fish (e.g., haddock) in that region has lead to strong increases in herring. Cod feed on bottom prey and herring, and it’s the herring that feed on zooplankton. I have not checked on the long term data for zooplankton and phytoplankton production in that area. George’s Bank is a high production area because of shallow depth, strong currents and strong mixing. In many if not most parts of the oceans, declines in large piscivorous fish (fish eating fish) such as cod and tuna has resulted in increases in small, zooplankton feeding fish. If the change is significant, this would lead to declines in zooplankton and an increase in phytoplankton.

    The changes in temperature and current associated with el nino/ la nina result in large changes in phytoplankton production. I have not checked out the actual, measured values, but I would expect these changes in phytoplankton to be several hundred percent or even an order-of-magnitude. Thus, a 40 or 50% change in response to warming of sea surface water temperatures over the last 100 years seems plausible.

  106. To BillD at 6:23 am:

    Good and thoughtful comments.

    You are correct that open ocean fisheries usually target bigger fish, that no longer eat zooplankton. But we also target ever smaller fish populations — anchovies, sardines, menhadden — for fish oil supplements, and for feed for salmon and other farmed fish. And we also take in a lot of non-target fish (“bycatch”) and throw them overboard, dead. The smaller bycatch and the smaller target fish would be the ones more likely to eat zooplankton, wouldn’t you think?

  107. Phyto migrates vertically.
    The clearer or warmer the water is, the deeper they go.
    The deeper they go, the clearer the water gets……….and they go even deeper.
    Using some visual aid, is just going to tell you how deep they are.
    Not how many there are.

  108. BillD

    I have no opinion on trends in phytoplankton population. My complaint is blaming them (whatever they are) on “global warming.” Phytoplankton are clearly not that sensitive to small changes in temperature.

  109. It was once called “Publish or perish”, but it seems metaphoracally we are doing both, while nature laughs!

    A Message in a Bottle
    The report on my imminent death is immature. I have been sloshing around in the basins on the crust for more than four billion years. I now cover nearly 71 per cent of the planet. Since the last ice age, I have lifted myself out of the basin by 120 metres and scared the tribes of Noah to the higher ground. During deep time, I became the universal solvent for the volcanoes and the clouds. I have taken up as much salt as required by local circumstances and sometimes give it back in hot shallows and desert areas of my world. I have given man the salt in his blood. I have absorbed as much gas as I need to maintain balance with the organic world within me and on land. Your CO2 output is infinitesimally small. The exchange is so peaceful that science calls it equilibrium. I can absorb more CO2, if the plants do not need it, and it does not give me acid imbalance. My pH will remain basic no matter what you say. The variations you measure have come and gone many uncountable times on the planet and your baseline is too small to know the truth. What you do not get is that warming of the oceans releases CO2 and other gasses from my water, while cooling my water allows me to take up CO2 in vast amounts to nestle with the other molecules in my coldest most remote realms. I can absorb all that man can produce because your impact is feeble compared to my capacity.

    Please watch me with humility for you cannot change me. I am the ongoing sink for the planet, and I am huge and my heat content is beyond your estimation. Measure me here and there with your microscopes but know that I will never be that way in that place again. Open your mind to the infinite cycles of chemistry and physics and kneel on my beach. You can only hurt me by not respecting my infinite ability to change chemistry and temperature in all the corners of the seas. My CO2 feeds your plants and your plants provide all the oxygen you breathe. Your base line is infinitesimally small yet your mouth is wide open. Stop sending me your plastic water bottles.
    Poseidon, the King
    __________________________________________________________

    I am Aeolus
    I am mostly invisible, but not space. I am the wind you breathe, the 20 km thick shell around your sphere. I am bigger than Poseidon’s realm by many times. I am oxygen, and I am 80% nitrogen. I am both water vapour and humidity. I am carbon dioxide, methane, laughing gas and ozone. Argon, neon helium, and hydrogen make my fireworks in the lightening. I heat you by convection like an oven, cool you with my wind chill, and bury you in my microscopic hexagonal crystal frost. From the poles to the equator and from your caves to Kathmandu, I cover you, feed, and water you and your plants: no wind, and there is no food worth eating, for plants or man. Over four billion years and more, I practiced my cycles. My ozone protects you from your sun’s blue rays; my methane warms your coldest nights. Your green plants whirl out my oxygen all night trading it for my CO2 in the sunshine. When you walk in your forest, be thankful for the bargain.
    Without my parts per million CO2, you would choke. Without my parts per million CO2, you would freeze. As your people grow in numbers and size, I need more CO2 to fertilize your food. In my opinion, the more fat children, the merrier, because the earth does not laugh enough. Do not pump my CO2 underground or earth will quake from the wrong as it did under Denver on August 9th1967. When you sequester, be prepared to scavenge for food, and perhaps burn your oxygen for warmth
    ___________________________________________________________________________

    Vulcan – god of fire said, “All the gasses from the mantle of the earth drive my fire and push up my liquid rock. Water affects my temper. When I foam, I am deadly. My carbon dioxide is colourless, and difficult to detect. It is heavy. It sinks and has killed many camped near Lake Nyos, in Cameroon. My sulphur dioxide is a killer too. At more than 20 ppm, it irritates, burns your eyes and is dangerous to breathe. When inhaled, most becomes sulphuric acid. My hydrogen sulphide is easy to smell, like rotten eggs. People are generally able to notice the odour; it can kill you at 50 ppm. My radon is colorless, odourless, tasteless, and radioactive. It can creep into your basement. My hydrochloric acid is colorless, but with an ‘acidic’ odour and taste, My HCl is common around blowholes and in eruptions. It can and will destroy the ozone when it blows to the top of the atmosphere. Just like the liquid acid, my vaporous acid will burn anything it touches – especially the breathers. My sulphuric acid comes in shades of brown and is odourless; exposure results in quick burns and dissolves the outer layers of the teeth. However, my worst most painful acid is hydrofluoric. It is also invisible and will cause deep burns and permanent blindness if not flushed with water. Death by hydrofluoric acid is horrible. Ask the ghosts of Iceland in 1783.
    My chimneys are scattered around the planet and one big puff like Krakatau or Pinatubo can ruin your air and cool your world. Between expulsions, my gasses are usually scattered. You will never know when I will speak and kill you because your lives are too short. My CO2 is my most benevolent gas, and I have given you parts per million for you to feed your plants. Use it carefully and do not abuse it. It is weak to fear me and not prosper. I come when I want.
    I do not respond to human sacrifice.”
    __________________________________________________________________________

    Finally, Gaia – the earth element said:
    “Among the ancient elements of Aristotle, the earth element was both cold and dry. He thought I occupied a place between water and fire. Aristotle lived a short span, just a moment ago in universal time, and he did not ask me. I am wet and dry, hot and cold, light and dark in all the rainbow colours. Gaia is rich and overflowing with goodness. My sphere vibrates with the gravity of the solar system. I ring like a bell when I quake, and if gravity dropped me, my sphere would splash like a tear. When my skin slides, I create wealth and prosperity in your copper mines. You dress to match me at your atomic scale with treasures from your tiny mines.
    I must admit, your choices of where to cluster astonish me. I guess you do not know me yet.

    I condensed more than four billion years ago as stardust gathered at my core. In all that time continuing tomorrow, I am sorting out the stardust into separate useful solids and liquids. I give most of the vapours to Vulcan and Aeolus and most of the fluids to Poseidon and they all share.

    So far, you have found only enough gold to fill one house and enough diamonds to fill one truck. There is more where that came from. Find where I have hidden it in the mountains and under the waters. It is good for you to quest – good luck.
    Man is late to the life that began in the salty wet clay. You have the salt of Poseidon, the gills of fish, and the brains of monkeys; you have the muscles of babies and the lips of giants. Your eyes magnify everything and what you see scares you. You must place your optical illusions in the perspective of prosperity, health, food, shelter, and clothing. Please listen to your science and not your demagogues . Your footprint is light. How many of you have seen a mine or a well? None! They are rare like diamonds.

    Do what you need to do. Make all your people happy. You have wit enough to do it cleanly. Dig my coal and burn it; make it into plant food again and water. Pump my oil and burn it. There is more where you have not looked. There is much where you have already looked in trillion tonne layers of rock in Colorado. It is for man to use and recycle. Do not hesitate to scratch me; I do not bleed; I give.

    I do not want to be alone. Gaia and man belong together, and you do not know why. Much of my surface is empty of man. Perhaps illusions are the answer to the riddle. There is always more room for the children. Oh yes, the sunspots may be back when the lying stops.

    Demagogue – a political leader who gains power by appealing to people’s emotions, instincts, and prejudices in a way that is considered manipulative and dangerous.

  110. RE: stevengoddard: (July 31, 2010 at 8:23 am ) “My complaint is blaming them (whatever they are) on “global warming.””

    I find the use of the phrases ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ as cause for alarm in any scientific paper now tends to give me the instant impression that it is only tract of modern environmentalism.

  111. Comments have been made relating to the use of the Secchi disc referring to its size, the number of tests and the size of the oceans. Statistically, the size of the population does not matter (in this case the area of ocean). What counts is that randomness of samples and the quality of samples. Any sampling needs a base level of the number of samples, usually about 5000+, and this will be a good guide to the whole population provided you have obeyed the key rules of randomness and quality. Your survey will give you a result accurate to 95% (which means 5% of surveys are simply wrong). I would quarrel with the historical data of the Secchi surveys in that they were not random and their quality is in doubt (not least because they depended on the eyesight function of the observer, never mind any pollution in the seas). This is true of most climate science and especially climate history which is why we have to rely on proxies, be it frost fairs on the Thames, agricultural records or fossils.
    OT, still wondering how next winter will turn out. Anyone got some hard data to give us a prediction that is 95% certain? Oh well, I thought not, but it does no harm to ask.

  112. says:
    July 31, 2010 at 8:23 am
    BillD

    I have no opinion on trends in phytoplankton population. My complaint is blaming them (whatever they are) on “global warming.” Phytoplankton are clearly not that sensitive to small changes in temperature.

    Steve:

    Phytoplankton are clearly not so senstive in a physiological sense to the observed small increases in temperature. However, small changes in temperature could easily have strong effects of mixing depth. The fact that the greatest changes in temperature have been in late winter and spring can easily lead to larger changes in mixing depth and shallower stratification during the crucial spring months. At least that is what is happening in large deep lakes, such as Tahoe, Constance, Baikal, etc. where small amounts of warming result in shallower mixing. Perhaps the best way to check this would be to search for historical data on the spring mixing depth in various oceans.

  113. Just a thought …

    If it’s true that the places the researchers have been looking for the species in question have turned up a paucity of the species they’ve been evaluating, then there are more questions than have been answered by their findings.

    Merely looking and not finding is only a part of the answer.

    Consider: Has ANYONE collected samples of the seawater and analyzed those samples to see how they differ from places elsewhere?

    Is there a chemistry which differs?

    Hey, how about this: The chemical constituents of those ‘ship tracks’ is affecting the oceans over which it precipitates.

    Ref.:
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/07/22/ship-tracks-what-do-they-do-to-albedo/

    Question: IF those ‘tracks’ are happening in places where the species are diminishing, then what about what’s happening –or not– in those places where said tracks are NOT happening?

  114. 899

    There are thousands of routine oceanography studies that examine water chemistry at different places, oceans and depths. A 40% change in water clarity and phytoplankton chlorophyll should also show readily measured changes in chemistry, such as total, dissolved and particulate nitrogen. Of course it would be a big job to compile the available data and such data are not as comprehensive as Secchi data.

  115. Grumpy Old Man says:
    July 31, 2010 at 9:32 am
    Comments have been made relating to the use of the Secchi disc referring to its size, the number of tests and the size of the oceans. Statistically, the size of the population does not matter (in this case the area of ocean). What counts is that randomness of samples and the quality of samples

    Grumpy:

    I’ve been involved in work at a lake laboratory where we invited people from the region to come in and estimate the Secchi depth at a lab open house. Few of the values were 10% from the mean. Since seasonal variation in the lake ranged from about 2-20 meters, the variation, even among inexperienced users is negligible. The Secchi disk is a very nice instrument for estimating water transparency. You don’t need to worry about calibration or batteries.

  116. I guess that the water is pretty turbid in the Gulf right now. Does that mean that the phytoplankton have migrated?

  117. John:

    You wrote: “Yet the polar regions are among the areas with considerably less phytoplankton growth. My BS meter was ringing loudly.”

    I finished reading the paper. The researches are puzzled by this issue too! Here it what they wrote.

    “Cumulatively, these findings suggest that warming SST and reduced MLD [mixed layer depths] may be responsible for phytoplankton declines at low latitudes. This mechanism, however, does not explain observed phytoplankton declines in polar areas, where ocean warming would be predicted to enhance Chl [chlorophyll pigment concentration] (Fig. 6c). This may partially be explained by concurrent increases in MLD and wind intensity there (see Supplementary Fig. 9). Further work is needed to understand the complex oceanographic drivers of phytoplankton trends in polar waters.”

    So this is an open question.

  118. “Cumulatively, these findings suggest that warming SST and reduced MLD [mixed layer depths] may be responsible for phytoplankton declines at low latitudes. This mechanism, however, does not explain observed phytoplankton declines in polar areas, where ocean warming would be predicted to enhance Chl [chlorophyll pigment concentration] (Fig. 6c). This may partially be explained by concurrent increases in MLD and wind intensity there (see Supplementary Fig. 9). Further work is needed to understand the complex oceanographic drivers of phytoplankton trends in polar waters.”

    Maybe a very interesting paper but how are such “results” portrayed by the MSM and the propaganda team behind them? Are the bold-ed caveats mention…uh no. So the shrill bloggers and posters braying “denialism” and “conspiracy” theorist at any mention of skepticism are fed by this machine. Its all rather pathetic.

  119. To Mike at 12:17 pm:

    Thanks for letting me know that the researchers recognized the conundrum. I haven’t been able to get the full paper behind the firewall.

    Do you have an opinion on the overfishing hypothesis put forward by Carl-Gustaf Lundin, head of the marine programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)? We certainly know about overfishing, they hypothesis rings true to me, so I’m wondering if you agree with it, or if you can think of a reason for why it might not be an adequate explanation?

  120. John,

    I do not have an opinion on the over fishing hypothesis. It was not discussed in the paper. We will have to wait and see what future research finds.

    Jaye,

    The mainstream media articles I posted links to did not seem terribly alarmist. Some of them interviewed researchers who had questions. Neither the NYT nor Wash Post has covered this. I think they should. It is important to separate criticism of the media and criticism of science. Both are fair game for public scrutiny, but they are different animals.

  121. BillD – from the tsunami of mainstream articles that were marched out in goose-step on the 29th of July:

    =======
    The study has its drawbacks. The older shipboard data weren’t collected with nearly as much regularity as the satellite data, notes marine biologist Mike Behrenfeld of Oregon State University, Corvallis. Still, marine biologist David Siegel of the University of California, Santa Barbara, says that given the sporadic records, Worm and colleagues have constructed a solid report. “They’ve squeezed as much as possibly can be squeezed out of this data set.
    sciencemag, July 29
    =======
    They’ve squeezed it alright.

    SeaWiFS, on the other hand, measures actual chlorophyll density globally, not the muddiness of water here and there, so the data requires no squeezing. By ignoring the two SeaWiFS studies mentioned above showing an increase in phytoplankton growth, rather than a decline, you don’t even have to bother with “dismissing the science.”

    Here are those studies again:
    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/chlorophyll.html
    http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/environment/hurricane_bloom.html
    Thankyou, Ulric, for the first one.

  122. The article says:

    “The scientific consensus is that we could not stop global warming at this point, even if we ceased all greenhouse gas production immediately. We have borrowed deeply against our environment and will be paying it back with interest for centuries.”

    Well, problem solved!

    Seriously, this is a highly flawed study. I’d never use something as primitive as a Secchi disc for this type of research…..modern biota enumeration utilizes extensive sampling, species identification, population assessments, even satellite analysis for large tracts of water.

    Pollution from air deposition (toxics from Asia particularly), runoff from land, and building levels of recalcitrant levels of organic compounds including long-lived plastics are at least as likely for any phytoplankton decrease as warming. Until I see better science out of this bunch, I’m going to party like it’s 1999!


  123. Writes CRS:

    Seriously, this is a highly flawed study. I’d never use something as primitive as a Secchi disc for this type of research…..modern biota enumeration utilizes extensive sampling, species identification, population assessments, even satellite analysis for large tracts of water.

    Those who have subscriptions to Nature (or who are willing to cough up the cash to get through the paywall) have already offered information on this thread to the effect that it was not only Secchi disk observations that were conducted in the reported study, but apparently also a number of such other measurements (counts, species identifications, chemical analyses, temperature readings, etc.) as would occur to any undergraduate student in the average marine biology course who might get his hands upon – or construct, as we did when I was an undergraduate in a marine biology course – a Niskin bottle and dunk it into the water alongside the Secchi disk.

    What they apparently did not do was to take into account two recent Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) studies which seem to have shown an increase in phytoplankton growth.

    If our Dalhousie PhD candidate has not integrated the SeaWiFS information in his literature search – indeed, if the peer review officers of Nature did not exercise what I would personally consider due diligence in familiarizing themselves with such significant publications in the discipline and guide this young person toward them – the results attained in this article and the conclusions drawn thereupon are weaker than they really ought to be. Not so?


  124. Moderator, please note that posts on this thread seem at some point to have been HTML’d into default boldface. Can this be corrected? Thank you.


    REPLY:
    Fixed, Anthony

  125. stevengoddard asked me:

    “Do you have any evidence that there has been a “major shift” in temperatures? Even Hansen’s bloated numbers only show 0.65 degrees since 1880. By contrast, ENSO temperatures have changed ten degrees in less than a year.”

    Note that I said “temperature and nutrient supply”. I should have said “temperature and/or nutrient supply”. Increasing eutrophication has caused many species shifts. So also has weather shifts, changing wind intensity, both for the Arabian Sea and Southern Ocean (the latter mentioned here in a previous comment). Not sure about other places that have a weather-ocean connection. Temperature stratification is enhanced in warmer waters, even slightly warmer, due to amplfication of density difference effects — as little as a 0.2 C shift in the temperature of a water mass can significantly alter its buoyancy. That’s been stated as a cause for a decades-long shift off Southern California. Curry et al. 2003 noted increasing salinity in tropical waters due to increased evaporaton; sorry that I don’t know how much of an ocean temperatre shift is required to drive that significantly. Not sure where Hansen fits into this, his data is global surface and temperature effects in the ocean are from surface to depth. Barnett et al. 2005 discussed ocean warming and Levitus et al. in 2000 and 2005 did too. The more recent Levitus et al. paper, which I found online, notes that ocean warming isn’t uniform, with regional diffrences due to shifts in atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns or both.

    Sorry I cant directly answer your question.

  126. Khwarizmi says:
    July 31, 2010 at 9:30 pm
    BillD – from the tsunami of mainstream articles that were marched out in goose-step on the 29th of July:

    =======
    The study has its drawbacks.

    Kwarizimi and others:

    Of course this study and the use of the Secchi disk has draw backs. Unfortunately, over a hundred years ago, no one did comprehensive studies of the world’s oceans using modern instruments.

    I have published a couple of articles based on long term data, and it’s usually not perfect. The challenge that scientists face is to make the most of the available data. Most of my research is experimental, but I really enjoyed the challenge of finding relatively clear and convincing answers in imperfect long term data. Of course, long term data are especially important for testing hypotheses about climate change. The strength of this paper is that the authors realized that Secchi data are available over the last century and then finding, throuogh analysis, that these data show a convincing and coherent pattern.

    Unfortunately, the satallite data do not go back to 1900. I find the authors’ evidence that the Secchi disk data and the satillite data are concruent convincing.

    Note–this is not a modelling study. However, it would be very interesting to plug the results of this study into models of physical and biological oceanography.

  127. @ Rich Matarese says:
    July 31, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    REPLY: Using a Secchi disk for a study of this kind is arcane! This is comparable to using pH paper to measure the (supposed) decline in ocean pH. I’m surprised a sober journal like Nature considered the paper at all.

    Secchi disks are commonly used in freshwater limnology as a simple “shake & bake” estimation test, but I sure wouldn’t extrapolate the readings for Secchi disk in the oceans and extrapolate results to a hemisphere! One good walrus dump would skew the results!

    At University of Illinois, my team is doing extensive research on freshwater phytoplankton (microalgae) using fluorescence at 680 nm to determine growth rate. Results to be published soon, we are doing some growth manipulation techniques that have barely been investigated before.

  128. CRS, Dr.P.H. says:
    August 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm
    @ Rich Matarese says:
    July 31, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    Dr. P.H.

    The whole point of this paper is having data collected over the last 100 years. I just don’t understand how your fluometer can be used to estimate conditions at the beginning of the 20th century. For data over the last few decades, satellite data on surface chlorophyll is cleary the best approach for ocean wide estimates.


  129. CRS, Dr.P.H. and BillD make good argument about how the “whole point of this [research work, which was to deal with] data collected over the last 100 years.

    Because satellite data has only been collected “over the last few decades,” it is not appropriate to compare information gained thereby with what had been obtained by observations conducted in the first decade of the 20th Century.

    Such methods as Secchi disk observation were available to the researchers working a hundred years ago, and are easy enough to replicate today. So are certain straightforward chemical, physical, and microscopic analyses of water samples taken at various depths, which I understand were also conducted by the investigators publishing this report.

    Were I convinced that the expenditure of cash and effort were worthwhile – remember, my training in marine biology is limited to one undergraduate course in which I was enrolled during the Nixon Administration, and this is way to hellangone outside my professional discipline – I’d get my hands on this paper in Nature if only to determine whether or not the authors had gone into any detail on the extent to which they’d taken pains to place their own reported observations into proper context against those of their predecessors.

    Fortunately, we have in this forum the participation of people who are more proximally interested in (and experienced in) limnology and other aspects of marine biology, and some of them have got versions of this paper and its supporting data in hand.

    As prior posts on this thread seem to indicate, the investigators’ findings and conclusions in this report appear to be presenting exaggerated claims of phytoplankton population attenuation to an extent which, on the face of things, draws immediately and unavoidably into doubt the validity of their methodologies and their interpretations of data obtained.

    BillD avers that “The strength of this paper is that the authors realized that Secchi disk data are available over the last century and then finding, through analysis, that these data show a convincing and coherent pattern,” but as CRS correctly observes (“One good walrus dump would skew the results!” – and my own limited personal experience confirms – Secchi disk estimations of water turbidity are so damnably subject to situational variations having nothing to do with phytoplankton population densities that to speak of “a convincing and coherent pattern” may well be to invest wishful thinking in correlations which have nothing to do with the factors which one thinks are being studied.

    Now, given that we do have observational data collected by way of more discriminatory methods (notably the SeaWiFS system, which “measures actual chlorophyll density globally, not the muddiness of water here and there, so the data requires no squeezing“), has there been any effort to correlate these findings against those gained in the contemporaneous performance of such relic techniques as Secchi disk evaluations of oceanic water turbidity?

    That would set things in better context, would it not?

  130. Well I was recently asked by a Trout Expert to explain Secchi Disk anomalies (hate that word) that he had observed in making water turbidity measurments.

    The SD is routinely used by water engineers who want to check the quality of fresh water lakes and reservoirs etc.

    This trout Scientist spends a lot of time under water studying what trout actually do under water; their feeding behavior and such like; and he has become somewhat of an officionado of the Secchi Disk as a result.

    He told me that he would routinely do SD measurements from his boat in lakes and other places; to see if it was worth jumping in to study trout behavior.

    What he found was that when he was sitting on the bottom; looking at the trout; the visibility was nowhere near as good as his Secchi disk readings had indicated; and he was at a loss to understand why.

    I suggested he take his Secchi disk down with him; and set it up over where his trout were and see if he got the same readings as he got from the boat.

    Turns out he had already done exactly that; and no the readings were quite different. So he was bamboozled and asked me to explain it.

    The Secchi disk operates by reflecting light from the white sectors back to the viwer; normally looking straghit down on the disk, as it is lowered into the water.
    Turbidity scatters the light so some of it moves over so it appears to come from the black sectors of the disk; where no reflected light should be. Sop the white sectors get dimmer than they should be; and the black sectors get brighter than they should be; and ultimately the contrast disappears altogether.

    It’s a bloody clever gizmo, since the radial sectors sweep out a range of spatial frequencies from center of the disk to the edge; so the center contrast vanishes first.

    Well the observations are based on the presumption, that ambient light shines down on top of the disk or passes beyond the rim of the disk into a black hole; never to return.

    When he set his disk up horizontally; it had a backdrop of independently illuminated water; so it was in a bright field rather than a dark field.
    Now light from the bright field background comes by the edges of the dark segments; and scatters onto those segments as well as the other segments; and washes out the pattern much quicker that the strictly reflected dark field situation.

    So the visibility really is much worse when looking hoirizontally into a bright field illuminated situation in a turbid medium.

    He’s happy now that he knows it’s real.

  131. I guess I should have added that likewise in the ocean; unless the water is really deep so it is a true dark field situation; then the Secchi disk is going to give wrong answers also.

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