Unexplored Possible Climate Balancing Mechanism

This visible image of a 93 mile wide deep-ocean plankton eddy was taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite ~ 800 km south of South Africa in the Agulhas current. Image: NASA’s Earth Observatory

Effect of CO2 levels on phytoplankton.

Story submitted by Don Healy

This article opens up a whole new vista into the relationship between CO2 levels, oceanic plant growth and the complex relationships that we have yet to learn about in the field of climate science. If phytoplankton respond like most plant species do, we may find that the modest increases in CO2 levels we have experienced over the last 50 years may actually create a bounty of micro plant growth in the oceans, which would in turn create the food supply necessary to support an increase in the oceans’ animal population.

At the same time, it would explain where the excess atmospheric CO2 has been going; much of it converted into additional biological matter, with only a limited existence as raw CO2.

There may well be a naturally balancing mechanism that explains how the earth was able to survive atmospheric levels of CO2 as high as 7000 mmp in past geologic history without turning into another Venus. Just surmising of course, but this fits with what we know about the response of terrestrial plants to elevated CO2 levels, so it is a plausible theory. Hopefully more studies along this line can clarify the situation.

From the article:

The diatom blooming process is described in the article by Amala Mahadevan, the author of the study and oceanographer at WHOI, as inextricably linked to the flow of whirlpools circulating the plants through the water and keeping them afloat.

“[The study’s] results show that the bloom starts through eddies, even before the sun begins to warm the ocean,” said Ms. Mahadevan.

This study explains the causation of phytoplankton’s phenology—the reasons behind the annual timing of the microscopic plant’s natural cycle—as it is influenced by the ocean’s conditions.

“Springtime blooms of microscopic plants in the ocean absorb enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, much like our forests, emitting oxygen via photosynthesis. Their growth contributes to the oceanic uptake of carbon dioxide, amounting globally to about one-third of the carbon dioxide we put into the air each year through the burning of fossil fuels. An important question is how this ‘biological pump’ for carbon might change in the future as our climate evolves,” said researchers.

WHOI describes the study as being conducted by a specially designed robot that can float just below the surface like a phytoplankton (only much, much larger). Other robots, referred to by WHOI as “gliders” dove to depths of 1,000 meters to collect data and beam it back to shore. Together, the robots discovered a great deal about the biology and nature of the bloom. Then, using three-dimensional computer modeling to analyze the data, Ms. Mahadevan created a model that corresponded with observation of the natural phenomena.

Full story:

http://www.thebunsenburner.com/news/cause-of-north-atlantic-plankton-bloom-is-finally-revealed/

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

Science 6 July 2012: Vol. 337 no. 6090 pp. 54-58 DOI: 10.1126/science.1218740

Eddy-Driven Stratification Initiates North Atlantic Spring Phytoplankton Blooms

Amala Mahadevan, Eric D’Asaro,*, Craig Lee, Mary Jane Perry

Abstract

Springtime phytoplankton blooms photosynthetically fix carbon and export it from the surface ocean at globally important rates. These blooms are triggered by increased light exposure of the phytoplankton due to both seasonal light increase and the development of a near-surface vertical density gradient (stratification) that inhibits vertical mixing of the phytoplankton. Classically and in current climate models, that stratification is ascribed to a springtime warming of the sea surface. Here, using observations from the subpolar North Atlantic and a three-dimensional biophysical model, we show that the initial stratification and resulting bloom are instead caused by eddy-driven slumping of the basin-scale north-south density gradient, resulting in a patchy bloom beginning 20 to 30 days earlier than would occur by warming.

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Nerd

Interesting till you reach to the end of the article…
“It remains unclear exactly what impact this study will have on global climate change. A better understanding of the cause of the massive plankton blooms could allow climate scientists to unravel the mysteries of global warming. Findings also allow for a better understanding of how carbon dioxide, the main source of climate change, impacts local ocean life.”

I would edit the opening sentence to say, “Springtime phytoplankton blooms photosynthetically fix carbon AND ENERGY and export THEM from the surface ocean at globally important rates.”

Their growth contributes to the oceanic uptake of carbon dioxide, amounting globally to about one-third of the carbon dioxide we put into the air each year through the burning of fossil fuels.
============
How much of the other 95% of CO2 emitted by natural sources do they uptake? Do they also consume 1/3 of those? Or do they somehow magically recognize only fossil fuel CO2?

David

Does this explain why Deli lunch meat is more expensive than lobster?

Their growth contributes to the oceanic uptake of carbon dioxide, amounting globally to about one-third of the carbon dioxide we put into the air each year through the burning of fossil fuels.
======
If they consume 1/3 of our CO2 each year, then if humans were to stop emitting CO2, the persistence time in which 1/2 the CO2 was consumed would be less than 2 years. 1/3 + 2/9 = 5/9 > 50%.

Bruce Stewart

I recall a marine biologist claiming that one really big phytoplankton bloom could potentially consume all the CO2 emitted by man’s activities, so this does make sense.

Richard111

Four and half billion years of evolution will have many more surprises.

Hari Seldon

and where does this leave ocean acidification ?

Interstellar Bill

The only mystery about global warming is how such a blatant fraud keeps on going and going.

Jeff Norman

“At the same time, it would explain where the excess atmospheric CO2 has been going; much of it converted into additional biological matter, with only a limited existence as raw CO2”
Yes but the new biological matter is draining the natural CO2 out of the atmosphere and leaving higher concentrations of man made CO2 [/sarc]

milodonharlani

The authors made their necessary obeisance to CO2 orthodoxy (“the main source of climate change”), while at the same time reminding the High Priests & Archdruids of the CAGW cult (who are prepared to sacrifice not just first born sons or selected virgins but all humanity on their altar) that science still doesn’t know a great deal about possible carbon sinks, along with much else regarding the mechanics of climate.

pat

it is likely we will find that elevated CO2 levels will help coral reefs rather than destroy them as now hypothesized.

PeterB in Indianapolis

@Hari Seldon:
In future times, “Ocean Acidification” will be deemed to have only been “psycho”-historical.

Gary

Liebig’s Law will apply with phytoplankton. As spring advances, light becomes less limiting and growth takes off, but then nutrients (most likely nitrogen) become the inhibitor of continued rampant growth, even if CO2 is over-abundant. Studies such as this are limited as well — sort of a corollary to LL — because they don’t look at everything over enough time to see the big picture.

Nerd writes “Interesting till you reach to the end of the article…”
In the years before Isaac Newton wrote his Principia Mathematica, the most important part of any scientific report was the piece that had to be added at the end, which showed why the findings were in accordance with the teachings of the Church of England. These days, when anyone writes a report that has anything vaguely to do with CAGW, it is necessary to genuflect in the Church of the Religion of CAGW. One of these days someone who matters is going to point out how ridiculous this is, and maybe, just maybe, someone in the MSM will notice.
But until then, we will be forced to hear the strains of Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag ” …. genuflect, genuflect, genuflect, genuflect”

Steve Keohane

Jim Cripwell says: July 10, 2012 at 9:24 am
Thanks for the reference to Lehrer, haven’t heard that in years. Great satirist.

MattN

Isn’t this saying the exact opposite of the study last year that said we’ve killed off 50% of phytoplanton with increased CO2???
And they wonder why we don’t believe them??

Seems like this is pretty strong evidence that the planet is CO2-starved, since it appears that CO2 is the limiting resource for one of the most important and abundant organisms on the planet.

Urederra

What is gonna be next? Are we converting fossil fuels into … people?

John F. Hultquist

Anthony should add a poll after the text copied below to see how many readers know what the hell just happened in this exchange:
PeterB in Indianapolis says:
July 10, 2012 at 9:12 am
@Hari Seldon:
In future times, “Ocean Acidification” will be deemed to have only been “psycho”-historical.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I vote thumbs up on the phytoplankton study. The bow to climate change and future funding is only slightly off-putting.

Poriwoggu

This is one of those “ya but” situations.
In theory CO2 should be causing an explosion of growth in the core ocean. However it is very easy to show that the ocean is iron starved. Just dump iron sulfate or nano-particles of iron in the ocean and there is an immediate algae bloom.
What is happening?
If you run the numbers, fishing removes more than a megaton of iron from the core ocean each year. Naturally sulfur and other trace minerals are removed as well. These are minerals that have always been in the ocean and no one is replacing them.
CO2 is rising because of ocean depletion and rainforest destruction. If we stop one or both of these activities we shouldn’t have a CO2 problem.

Brian H

Weren’t those the wee buggers that created the O2/N2 atmosphere out of mostly CO2 in the first place?
Hyper-pothesis: the atmosphere’s composition is under the control of phytoplankton. All other influences are secondary.

jcbmack

My evo bio professor spoke of the carbon sinks often and specifically phytoplankton. He was never alarmed about any CAGW

Sean

“There may well be a naturally balancing mechanism that explains how the earth was able to survive atmospheric levels of CO2 as high as 7000 mmp in past geologic history without turning into another Venus.”
“Findings also allow for a better understanding of how carbon dioxide, the main source of climate change, impacts local ocean life.”
———————————-
Or maybe the potential effects of atmospheric CO2 on climate are limited and that increasing CO2 has no further effect. Maybe increasing CO2 is just a result of warming climate and not a cause.
Real scientists question all of their assumptions. Ms. Mahadevan accepts the climate change dogma without challenging it. QED she is not a real scientist.

Brian H

I guess my neologism is semi-oxymoronic.
hypo-thesis = not quite a thesis (theory)
hyper-thesis = master (super) thesis (theory)
😉

Jimmy Haigh

Robert Wille says:
July 10, 2012 at 9:36 am
Good point. What’s the betting on the next scare being a shortage of CO2 in the atmosphere? No doubt it will be pedalled by the same charlatans who have brought us the CO2 = CAGW scam.

Bart

As I have explained to many doubters on these boards, the data clearly show that atmospheric CO2 concentration is almost entirely determined by temperatures. It follows that the Earth has an active and robust system for sequestering CO2. Many of my detractors have countered with “there are no known processes to explain that,” as if what we don’t know can have no effect. Well, here’s one such process. There are no doubt others.
Moreover, on the other side, there must be a mechanism for continual replenishment of CO2 into the environment to be sequestered, or we would soon run out of it. I favor undersea volcanoes and deep sea vents, of which there is no comprehensive inventory. But, whatever it is, the data says it must be there. I do not have to know how a bird flies to know that something in the sky is pooping on my windshield. And, I do not need to know all the sources and sinks for CO2 to know that humankind has very little net impact on atmospheric CO2 concentration. The poop says it all.

Sooooooo… the science structure is still corrupt, vide the terminal genuflection.
Several years ago the oceans expert Floor Anthoni said sorrowfully they’d try to make acidification the scare when CO2 warming alarms failed. He explained to me exactly why acidification simply CANNOt happen – even if we burned all the fossil fuels remaining. No acidification because of a supply-on-tap of Ca++. No manmade CO2 increase because natural processes account for about 97% of the annual turnover – divided fairly equally between dissolving into the oceans, and photosynthesis.
Current CO2 increase is because of Henry’s Law – as always: (a) recent warming of ocean surfaces due to recent global warming and (b) deep thermohaline rising after the MWP 800 years ago. Of course CO2 levels will rise, and steadily – for a while. Beware when this turns.
Nice to know that science is thinking about phytoplankton. Decay processes, soil CO2, and leaf breathing next please.
Not nice to know Science has still forgotten to take Henry’s Law into the reckoning. And all the rest. Check my pages if you want more detail.

My analysis of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and 13CO2/12CO2 ratios suggests that the Arctic Ocean with it’s phytoplankton blooms absorbs all the CO2 that is delivered to it. The signiture of anthropogenic emissions doesn’t show up in the atmosphere until around ten years later. It appears that it has gone through a biospheric cycle. The emission excess is absorbed out of the atmosphere, goes thru a life cycle and decay, and is re-introduced into the atmosphere. More CO2 produces more plant growth. More plant growth produces more decaying matter, and more decaying matter produces more CO2 that has been through a fractionation process .

gringojay

Some plankton’s light driven proton pump proteorhodopsin matches the local ocean light spectrum to the variety of plankton adapted to the ocean niche. Genes of proteohodopsin in open sea & coastal water of the tropics favor a blue light driven variant as opposed to a proteohodopsin green light driven gene.
Meanwhile there are estimates the oceans contain at least 10 times more viral biological “pieces” than bacterial life forms. Not only are a lot of different plankton hosts to different strains of virus in different latitudes of the sea but the ocean virus influence the way light refracts.
The report details springtime blooms and since viral phages take time to lyse there are early on fewer viral “pieces” refracting away the light spectrum local plankton use to drive their proton pump.

Austin

Cap carbonates anyone?
Algae use a different pathway than terrestrial plants.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthesis

Randall Jackson

1. Add iron.
2. Stir.
3. Tuna!

Old England

Could there be a clinical diagnosis of the green dementia that CAGW alarmists and activists clearly suffer from out there waiting to be described and written up ? I wouldn’t mind contributing towards a research fund for it.

milodonharlani

Seeding the oceans with iron has been suggested to mitigate supposedly evil CO2, & has even been tested. No surprise, the Warmer response has been that all the extra plankton will die, sink to the bottom of the sea & decompose, producing the even more evil greenhouse gas, methane. No amelioration by engineering must be allowed. For same reason, nuclear power must be shown to be just as climate-destructive as burning fossil fuels.

CRS, Dr.P.H.

Nerd says:
July 10, 2012 at 8:29 am
Interesting till you reach to the end of the article…
“It remains unclear exactly what impact this study will have on global climate change. A better understanding of the cause of the massive plankton blooms could allow climate scientists to unravel the mysteries of global warming. Findings also allow for a better understanding of how carbon dioxide, the main source of climate change, impacts local ocean life.”

….I think the authors meant “fundings,” not “findings”….

Poriwoggu

Just to indicate how bad the problem is: the concentration of iron in the crust is 5%, the concentration of iron in the ocean is 0.00034 ppm (mg/l).
The total iron in the ocean is 455600000 tonnes – so fishing removes at least 0.22%/yr, or 2.2 %/decade, or 22%/century… and is getting worse. Total catch is increasing even as the species come from further and further down the food chain.
The Warming Cultists pooh pooh problems like this because, well, they’re full of pooh pooh.

Bart

Fred H. Haynie says:
July 10, 2012 at 10:56 am
“My analysis of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and 13CO2/12CO2 ratios suggests … more decaying matter produces more CO2 that has been through a fractionation process .”
Fascinating hypothesis. Sounds prima facie quite plausible.

Henry Clark

There may well be a naturally balancing mechanism that explains how the earth was able to survive atmospheric levels of CO2 as high as 7000 mmp in past geologic history without turning into another Venus.
Venus receives twice the solar irradiance in watts per square meter from the Sun (closer orbit), and it has an atmosphere 90 times the total mass of Earth’s atmosphere, beyond the factor of 150000 difference in CO2 compared to earth’s 4E-4 bar CO2 by volume and 6E-4 bar CO2 by mass. At a depth in the Venus atmosphere of 1 atm, at high enough altitude to be under the mass of Earth’s atmosphere, to quote from
http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20030022668_2003025525.pdf :
Viewed in a different way, the problem with Venus is merely that the ground level is too far below the one atmosphere level. At cloud-top level, Venus is the paradise planet. As shown in figure 2, at an altitude slightly above fifty km above the surface, the atmospheric pressure is equal to the Earth surface atmospheric pressure of 1 Bar. At this level, the environment of Venus is benign. Above the clouds, there is abundant solar energy. Temperature is in the habitable “liquid water” range of 0-50 [degrees Celsius].
— which is not at all an impressive magnitude of GHG effect from the CO2, to say the least, considering the solar irradiance difference.
(In fact, it would be interesting to calculate how expected temperatures at 1 atm in the Venus atmosphere would compare if its composition was primarily nitrogen/oxygen instead of CO2, as well as the general temperature-versus-pressure profile down to temperatures at the surface when considering limited convection, lack of negative feedbacks from any water cycle, relative oversaturation and diminishing returns from CO2 absorption long before 1 atm, and, below that altitude, opaque sulfuric acid clouds which are not white like water vapor clouds).
With that said, the article is right to point out CO2 boosting phytoplankton growth and how such did well when Earth’s atmosphere had thousands of ppm CO2 in the past.

Henry Clark

Back on the topic of phytoplankton, to quote a bit of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytoplankton in this case:
A 2010 study published in Nature reported that marine phytoplankton have declined substantially in the world’s oceans over the past century. Phytoplankton concentrations in surface waters were estimated to have decreased by about 40% since 1950 alone, at a rate of around 1% per year, possibly in response to ocean warming.[13][14] The study generated debate among scientists and led to several communications and criticisms, also published in Nature.[15][16][17][18] That study has not been substantiated so far.
Indicators which may be considered contraindicative to that magnitude of decline in the basis of the marine food web having occurred include not observing a comparable percentage decline in fish species which feed on phytoplankton.[19] Another global ocean primary productivity study found a net increase in phytoplankton, as judged from measured chlorophyll, when comparing observations in 1998-2002 to those conducted during a prior mission in 1979-1986.[20] The airborne fraction of CO2 from human emissions, the percentage neither sequestered by photosynthetic life on land and sea nor absorbed in the oceans abiotically, has been almost constant over the past century, and that suggests a moderate upper limit on how much a component of the carbon cycle as large as phytoplankton may have declined, if such declined in recent decades.[21] In the example of the northeast Atlantic, a case where chlorophyll measurements extend particularly far back, the location of the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey, there was net increase over a 1948 to 2002 period examined.[22] During 1998-2005, global ocean net primary productivity rose during 1998 followed by primarily decline during the rest of that period, although still slightly higher at its end than at its start.[23]

Notice how utterly bogus and blatantly wrong of a study got through peer review in Nature, including them issuing a special article like a press release (propaganda) to trumpet it to the news media. As usual, the false claim got widely publicized, and its rebuttals later were after media interest faded. That speaks volumes about how readily a study outright dishonest, as visible under the simplest cross-checking, can make it past peer review in Nature if convenient to the CAGW movement (or rather a broader enviropolitical movement which goes beyond CAGW alone).
But, anyway, reference #20 is basically http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2005/2004JC002620.shtml which remarked, where chlorophyll concentration is an indicator of phytoplankton abundance:
The analysis of decadal changes from the CZCS [1979-1986] to the SeaWiFS era [1998-2002] shows an overall increase of the world ocean average chlorophyll concentration by about 22%
During 1999-2009, human CO2 emissions averaged around 27 billion tons a year, which amounted to about 270 billion tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere over a decade (not counting vast other CO2 sources/sinks, not counting CO2 going more in loops within the biosphere). Meanwhile, there was a measured increase in atmospheric CO2 levels of 19.4 ppm by volume, 155 billion tons by mass, an amount 57% of the preceding but only 57% of it. The equivalent of around another 25% goes into the oceans. But the equivalent of the remaining gap goes into increased growth of biomass in plants (and indirectly sometimes soil), with the carbon fertilization effect of higher CO2 levels, amounting over that example decade to around 13 billion tons of carbon within 49 billion tons of CO2, more than a billion tons of carbon a year.
As a study at http://www.int-res.com/articles/cr2002/19/c019p265.pdf notes:
The observed increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is lower than the difference between CO2 emission and CO2 dissolution in the ocean. This imbalance, earlier named the ‘missing sink’, comprises up to 1.1 Pg C yr–1 [1.1 billion tons of carbon a year], after taking land-use changes into account.” “Stimulation of photosynthesis at higher CO2 concentrations is repeatedly observed in short-term experiments at the single leaf level. A number of biosphere models take this effect into account for calculating the natural terrestrial sink. The results of such calculations are normally in close agreement with the magnitude of the ‘missing sink’.
A study by the U.S. government’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimated that estimated carbon in global terrestrial vegetation increased from approximately 740 billion tons in 1910 to 780 billion tons in 1990, a major growth in biomass:
Post WM, King AW, Wullschleger SD, Hoffman FM (June 1997). “Historical Variations in Terrestrial Biospheric Carbon Storage”. DOE Research Summary (CDIAC, U.S. Department of Energy) 34.
http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/pns/doers/doer34/doer34.htm

RobertInAz

Don’t forget iron fertilization: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_fertilization. CO2 is not the only limiting factor.

Ray C

“….An important question is how this ‘biological pump’ for carbon might change in the future as our climate evolves,” said researchers.
With Co2 enrichment you would expect the marine diatoms to flourish. Especially if the world is getting windier;-
http://www.earthtimes.org/climate/world-windier/687/
…as there must then be an increase in the rate of deposition of dust from land to ocean bringing additional nutrients.
So more;-
Stimulation of ice nucleation by marine diatoms
http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2011NatGe…4…88K
Biogenic aerosol particles of terrestrial origin, including bacteria and pollen, can act as ice nuclei.
And
Plankton production of DMS and its escape to the atmosphere is believed to be one of the mechanisms by which the biota can regulate the climate.
http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/dimethyl/overview.php
Wheels within wheels!

Jim

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Climate balancing mechanism? Gimme a break. There’s no evidence that small, imperceptible increase in CO2 has any effect whatsoever on climate. So if it doesn’t cause warming, and it can’t simultaneously cause cooling by increasing phytoplankton. There are no positive or negative feedbacks, because there’s NOTHING to feed back upon! The climate is not changing — at least due to CO2!!!!

Jim

@Hari Seldon: There’s no such thing as ocean acidification. The ocean is only becoming a little less basic. This nonsense about water turning to acid is false.

Jim

@Henry Clark: How do you know the Nature study was wrong and this one correct? I think the Nature study makes more sense. It also explains why temperature rises BEFORE carbon dioxide! Now there’s a novel idea! If you look at past climate, temperature DRIVES carbon dioxide and NOT the other WAY around. When the oceans heat up, they begin to outgas CO2. One mechanism this occurs by is loss of phytoplankton populations. CO2 DOES NOT cause global warming. Global warming causes CO2 to increase!

Lady Life Grows

I am earnestly hoping that future generations will look back on the “ocean acidification” with incredulous laughter. Could their ancestors really really be so dumb as to believe that a pH of 8.1 is acidic??
They will also understand that higher levels of carbon dioxide (at anything remotely near current atmosphere) would enable animals to breathe better, for current levels make gas exchange too rapid, and starve your tissues of oxygen.

Interesting – for over 70% of the past 600 million years, atmospheric CO2 has been above 1000 parts per million – at one time it was up to 7000 ppm. Yet marine animals have thrived throughout… http://www.herkinderkin.com/2010/01/a-funny-thing-did-not-happen-in-the-cambrian-and-late-ordovician-periods/
The balancing mechanism you postulate might be the explanation.

cotwome

“This Envisat image captures a plankton bloom larger than the country of Greece stretching across the Barents Sea off the tip of northern Europe.”
http://blog.norway.com/2009/09/15/phytoplankton-bloom-in-the-barents-sea/

nimbunje

Isn’t the iron rich Aeolian borne dust from Australia an important ingredient in blooms around Antarctica ?

kwik

What is new about this? Is this yet another re-discovery?

George E. Smith;

So what did they think caused Phytoplankton to grow so it could feed all those megamonsters that inhabited the primordial seas ?
This paper would be good to read to the next 4-H club science talk.