Good news: posited global warming won't kill off ocean phytoplankton

Ocean algae will cope well in varying climates, study shows



Tiny marine algae that play a critical role in supporting life on Earth may be better equipped to deal with future climate change than previously expected, research shows.

Scientists investigated the likely future impact of changing environmental conditions on ocean phytoplankton, a microscopic plant that forms the basis of all the oceans’ food chains.

Phytoplankton is important for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while generating much of the oxygen needed to sustain life on Earth.

The study grew phytoplankton at the high carbon dioxide levels predicted for the year 2100 and beyond. The algae was allowed to evolve through 400 generations, with some exposed to varying levels of CO2 and some kept at constant CO2 levels.

Researchers found that phytoplankton exposed to fluctuating CO2 levels was better able to cope with further changes in conditions, compared with algae grown in stable CO2 levels. The finding suggests that populations of the algae will adapt more to the varied conditions expected in future than was previously thought based on experiments at stable conditions.

Scientists found however that the algae developed in changing CO2 conditions evolved more and were smaller than those grown in stable conditions. These factors may impact on how well marine animals can feed off phytoplankton, and how efficiently the algae is able to take carbon out of the atmosphere and sink to the deep ocean. Plankton in some regions of the ocean may evolve more than others under global climate change, because some regions of ocean are currently more variable than others.

The studies, published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society B, were supported by the Royal Society, the European Commission, and the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance.

Dr Sinead Collins, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led both studies, said: “Predicting how populations of ocean algae will respond to changing ocean conditions is difficult, but these results suggest that populations from highly changeable environments are better placed to deal with additional environmental change than previously suspected.”


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June 30, 2015 9:36 am

oh for God’s sake…..these people are embarrassing

Reply to  Latitude
June 30, 2015 9:57 am

Quite so, the night of Aphrodite and Zeus.

Reply to  Latitude
June 30, 2015 10:49 am

Wow! This is some Great news. I was getting scared for the little guys. Sarc

george e. smith
Reply to  Mick
June 30, 2015 12:32 pm

“””””…..Tiny marine algae that play a critical role in supporting life on Earth may be better equipped to deal with future climate change than previously expected, research shows……”””””
Previous juvenile research attempts, way underestimated the robustness of marine algae, that after all were able to populate the oceans, when conditions for life on earth were as hostile as they have ever been.
There that’s better.

Bruce Cobb
June 30, 2015 10:04 am

I don’t think they’ve quite gotten the climate grant-grubbing thing down. Even if they couldn’t get the negative results they wanted and expected from increasing CO2, they could have said something like “although phytoplankton appear to be doing well now, changes in the chemistry of the sea and atmosphere will likely have negative results on them in the future.” I mean really, with COP21 coming up, you’d think they would have tried harder.

Say What?
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
June 30, 2015 10:46 am

They’ve already circulated that memo. It’ll pop up soon in the media.

Louis Hunt
June 30, 2015 10:12 am

What? Life finds a way? Life adapts to changing conditions? Impossible!

June 30, 2015 10:26 am

Could you provide a link to the actual study please?
I’d like to read this one.

Reply to  Roy Denio
June 30, 2015 1:04 pm

Thank you sir!

June 30, 2015 10:29 am

“Adaptation” has been around since before there were only 2 species of life on the whole planet. I’m glad to see it hasn’t gone out of style.
It would be nice if established ‘mindsets’ could learn to ‘adapt’ to the changing environment of empirical data.

June 30, 2015 10:33 am

“these results suggest that populations from highly changeable environments are better placed to deal with additional environmental change than previously suspected.”
I’m shocked that they are surprised that life evolves to changes. Isn’t that covered in grade school? BTW, shouldn’t fossilized phytoplankton from high CO2 periods show a similar trend of “smallness”?.

son of mulder
June 30, 2015 10:41 am

I was wondering how they managed to survive through millions of years of changing climatic and volcanic conditions. Thank god these scientists got a grant to produce this work.

Say What?
June 30, 2015 10:45 am

Well they did have several hundreds of millions of years to adapt to worse weather than today.

June 30, 2015 10:50 am

Actually, ALL phytoplankton died off in the hot 1930’s, and since then have spontaneously re-created themselves from the primordial ooze, resulting in their current abundance – “Nature hates a vacuum”.
/snarc off

oebele bruinsma
June 30, 2015 10:56 am

Despite the relative limited number of years to recover, the Bikini atol seems to be coping quite well; despite the megatonnes of human warming dumped on them.

June 30, 2015 10:59 am

That’s why historic warm periods are referred to as optimums!

June 30, 2015 11:17 am

Tiny marine algae that play a critical role in supporting life on Earth may be better equipped to deal with future climate change than previously expected, research shows.

Than previously expected by who? Who the heck thought a couple of degrees would hurt the life form that has been here for millions of years? Who thought that a few degrees warmer, which has happened many times before, could kill off the tiny marine algae that has the entire oceans as its range.
Does one have to be a moron to work in climate science or does it just help?

Reply to  markstoval
June 30, 2015 11:28 am

It also behooves one to not have a conscience when it comes to accepting government grant money.

Reply to  LeeHarvey
June 30, 2015 11:39 am

You can say that again!

Eugene WR Gallun
Reply to  markstoval
June 30, 2015 11:53 am

To work in climate science (or at any university doing anything) one has to be a progressive — which, come to think of it, is the same as being a moron.
Eugene WR Gallun

george e. smith
Reply to  markstoval
June 30, 2015 12:38 pm

Ignorance is not a disease; we are all born with it.
But stupidity has to be taught, and this release demonstrates that there are still plenty of idiots, willing and able to tech it.
Well if they can get a taxpayer grant of course.

Roy Spencer
June 30, 2015 11:28 am

they just shot themselves in the funding foot.

Reply to  Roy Spencer
June 30, 2015 1:28 pm

They kept the funding door open, now they need to look how the size will affect fish. I see a higher protein to carb ratio and faster reproduction/life cycle for phytoplankton (probably opposite of on land) and more/bigger fish. I wonder what the timescale of variation were.

June 30, 2015 11:51 am

“Predicting how populations of ocean algae will respond to changing ocean conditions is difficult, but these results suggest that populations from highly changeable environments are better placed to deal with additional environmental change than previously suspected.”
Suspected by whom? I wonder if the author has ever heard of Charles Darwin?

June 30, 2015 11:52 am

Memo from Green Peace and NRDC: We overlooked you this time, but we’ll be back!

June 30, 2015 12:03 pm

Phytoplankton exist in all ocean euphotic zones, and that means at all temperatures and all diurnal, seasonal, and ecosystem pH variations. The result is utterly unsurprising.

Gary Pearse
June 30, 2015 12:12 pm

The linear thinking (LT) means one can plot the future of the thinking of these guys about anything. ‘Tuesdays beer is 20% off, I can drink 10 beers and save 200%’.
1) What on earth do they mean by stable? Let me see, LT: ‘temperature and CO2 stay the same’ throughout the duration of the experiment.
2) Now variable, LT: turn up the burner under the pot in a 100% CO2 atmosphere until it added 170ppm.
3) I’d be interested to see how they simulated 85yrs in time for the change. Ya see Sinead, time is perhaps the most important parameter for determining how well the planks are doing. Look, did you add 2ppm CO2 over each year for the duration of the experiment, or did you simply jack it up 170ppm in a week? Yes, this study needs to be read carefully.
4) What was the standard deviation and mean of the size of the critters before and after population torture. I won’t actually believe this part of the study without a thorough assessment by an independent biologist who doesn’t go to Berkeley.
5) Finally, the earth has done this experiment millions of times and the variability over 2B years has certainly been tested. Go to sub sea fumeroles where CO2, H2S and a bunch of other serious acid gases are spewing out the seafloor – what do we find? – a cornucopia of creatures microscopic and otherwise. How’s this for a measure of adaptability gentle doctors?:
“The water coming out of the vents can reach incredible temperatures of up to 750 degrees F….At a hydrothermal vent there is total darkness, toxic chemicals and extreme water pressure. But there are bacteria-like organisms called archaea that use a process called chemosynthesis to turn chemicals from the vents into energy… [that] drive[s] the entire food chain[:]…include tubeworms, clams, mussels, crabs and shrimp. Hundreds of species of animals have been identified….[not to mention plankies. S’truth!!!

June 30, 2015 12:35 pm

Of course they found that the phytoplankton were smaller under varying conditions with high CO2, and the smaller size had to be from the extra CO2, not one of the other variables in the fish tank. After all, these single celled plankton had a real hard time growing with 2-5 times the CO2 in the atmosphere today:
Fusulinids and nummilites

June 30, 2015 2:46 pm

K a, sure this will be great news to the creator of Spongbob and his little evil character Plankton who can continue to run amok in Bikini Bottom.

George Devries Klein, PhD, PG, FGSA
June 30, 2015 3:07 pm

Just proves once again that nature is resilient.

June 30, 2015 3:12 pm

Seeming as phytoplankton float around on ocean currents and are thus cintinually exposed to changing conditions this study is kind of dumb

June 30, 2015 3:44 pm

The alarmist “scientists” should put the pH and carbon dioxide probe in healthy coral growth especially at nighttime and the camera on dying coral reef to stress their position.

June 30, 2015 3:55 pm

So, in a world where climate has for 4 billion oscillated in a fractal manner from hothouse with forested poles, to snowball earth, and everything in between, marine unicellular life is found – amazingly – to be capable of adaptation to climate change!

Mickey Reno
July 1, 2015 6:47 am

My god! What an abortion of a science paper. The passive phrase “than was previously thought” is such a cop out. It tacitly hints at the MAIN hypothesis of this paper, and of the researchers themselves, that THEY expected that phytoplankton would be harmed by higher and changing CO2 levels, a hypothesis now falsified by the actual observations. C’mon you people, there is NO ROOM IN SCIENCE for the phrase “than was previously thought.” If YOU THINK it, say “THAN OUR RESEARCH TEAM THOUGHT POSSIBLE.” Better still, state your farging hypothesis clearly and concisely. Say something like, we, the authors, hypothesize that increasing CO2 concentrations in the ocean will negatively affect the growth of phytoplankton in the worlds oceans, and we will test this hypothesis in the following ways…
And what’s worse, some of these same people have the gall to opine about climate science communication as if they knew the first thing about open and honest science.

Gary Pearse
July 1, 2015 12:42 pm

Climate change as a fact of life is a lot more common than mind change. If plankton can change with climate, they show more adaptability than mainstream climate scientists. I suspect stupid plankton who had a choice would not adapt if they doggedly refused to accept that temperature and chemistry of their realm was naturally changeable. Indeed, if it weren’t changeable and expected to be, why would they have wired superfluous survival capabilities into their DNA? This adaptability got there because the climate and chemistry does change up, down and sideways and the ancestors of current plankton (and millions of other critters) have already got the T-shirt. I can say categorically that such a stupid paper would never have been published or even written a couple of generations ago. Dem_So_silliest “core standards” education is finally paying dividends, I guess.

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