Friday, June 08, 2012

Phytoplankton Feedback

The discovery of massive phytoplankton blooms in the Arctic hints at a possible unsuspected negative CO2 climate feedback. It appears that thinning Arctic ice may create ideal conditions for algal growth under the ice. It's at least conceivable that the algal growth is sufficient to suck up a significant amount of our CO2 emissions.

NASA has revealed its discovery of a massive algae bloom under the slowly diminishing Arctic ice -- a finding that made scientists' eyes pop. But does this never-before-seen phenomenon change the fate of this microscopic algae?

Not long ago, this crucial plant life -- which produces much of the world's oxygen -- was reported in a century-long tailspin.

Here's the back story.

The same year that NASA researchers launched the Icescape expedition to the Arctic -- the project that resulted in NASA's astounding new discovery -- there was a dire report on the world's phytoplankton.

A Canadian team said in the journal Nature, as The Times reported in July 2010, that the world's phytoplankton had been disappearing at a rate of about 1% a year for the previous 100 years...

...

Phytoplankton -- the basis of the marine food chain -- "are key to the whole ecosystem," he said. "In terms of climate changes, the effect on fisheries, we don't know exactly what these effects will be."

Could his latest discovery of a mass of phytoplankton in the Arctic signal a turnaround for this crucial organism?

The jury's out. But it's a question scientists will be pursuing, according to Paula Bontempi, NASA's ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager in Washington.

...

Scientists also are looking at what this discovery could mean for global warming.

Phytoplankton are carbon dioxide munchers -- "plants need carbon dioxide," Bontempi said, "the major greenhouse gas." So this would be good news in terms of global warming, yes? ...

No doubt this will be hailed by the usual crowd as something they were sure was there all along.

TBD