A study published by scientists from MIT and the University of Alabama says that as the world’s oceans get more acidic due to the uptake of carbon dioxide, the global populations of phytoplantkon, essentially the building blocks of the ocean food chain will change in response to acidification. The study says that by the year 2100, some species of phytoplantkon will die out, unable to adapt to higher pH levels in the world’s oceans and seas, others will flourish and change the balance of the world’s plankton species.
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Ocean acidification will alter how plankton behave. Marine diatoms. Photo by Wikipedia.
Stephanie Dutkiewicz, lead author of the paper and principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for Global Change Science says she was shocked by the results of the study.
“I’ve always been a total believer in climate change, and I try not to be an alarmist, because it’s not good for anyone,” she said.
“The fact that there are so many different possible changes, that different phytoplankton respond differently, means there might be some quite traumatic changes in the communities over the course of the 21st century. A whole rearrangement of the communities means something to both the food web further up, but also for things like cycling of carbon.”
The research looked at six species of phytoplankton and how they grew under various acidic conditions and found that some grew faster than others while still others just died. They then paired the data collected on the phytoplankton with that of MIT’s global circulation model which offers simulations of ocean currents, temperatures and salinity with an ecosystem model that the scientists says simulates the behavior of 96 species of phytoplankton. What this determined was ocean acidification promotes certain species to grow faster, while others grew slower and the competition among species which would occur under normal circumstances, changed as well. This change in competition at the plankton level would also alter competition all the way up the food chain.
The research also points to a migration of the phytoplankton toward the poles, which would change the makeup of what you would find in Boston Harbor today versus what would be there in 2100.