Published: Tue, February 05, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Climate Change Is Altering The Color Of The Ocean

Climate Change Is Altering The Color Of The Ocean

The team also simulated how phytoplankton absorb and reflect light, and estimates a perceivable change in the ocean's color as global warming affects the makeup of phytoplankton communities. Scientists have used these measurements to derive the amount of chlorophyll, and by extension, phytoplankton, in a given ocean region.

Phytoplankton are small, microscopic plants that float through the water column, due to their ability to absorb and reflect light, communities of phytoplankton affect the color of the ocean.

The researchers ran the model through the end of the 21st century and found that, by the year 2100, more than 50 percent of the world's oceans will shift in color, due to climate change. In areas where the tiny plants begin to die out in even greater numbers than we've seen already, those organisms will have a much tougher time sustaining themselves, and the effects are felt all the way up to the top, including humans. The outcome will be in the coming time, these species will get extinct and predictions are by 2100, more than 50% of world's seas will change their colors and get more blue. Patches of ocean with a lot of algae appear greenish, for instance, while areas with fewer phytoplankton appear a deeper blue.

To determine this, the research team developed a global model that simulates the growth and interaction of phytoplankton and how the different species mix with a rise in temperatures as well as how the creatures absorb and reflect light. "Phytoplankton are at the base, and if the base changes, it endangers everything else along the food web, going far enough to the polar bears or tuna or just about anything that you want to eat or love to see in pictures".

The ocean looks blue or green to us because of a combination of how sunlight interacts with water molecules and with whatever else lives in that water.

The oceans appear blue because water molecules alone absorb nearly all sunlight except for the blue part of the spectrum, but with any organism in the ocean, phytoplankton for instance, the pigment in it will absorb less in the green portions and reflect more green light.

As the delicate ecosystems of the world's oceans become altered in the face of climate change, so too will their colour.

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They believe it will be 30-40 years before they can say for certain that climate change is having an impact on chlorophyll.

Findings showed that changes to the color of the ocean would take place as early as 2055. "But you can see a significant, climate-related shift in some of these wavebands, in the signal being sent out to the satellites".

One way to monitor changes on a global scale is through observing the color of the ocean satellite data.

Though the change is unlikely to be a radical one, we could be about to see brighter blues and stronger greens as global warming pushes temperatures up. It has been predicted that North Atlantic ocean will top the list in reflecting this change followed by Southern Ocean.

"It could be potentially quite serious", Dutkiewicz added.

That, the researchers said, was probably down to a number of factors, including that shifts in ocean colour take into account not only changes in the overall amount of phytoplankton - which can vary dramatically, for example with the season - but also changes in the species present, an important consideration since different types of phytoplankton use chlorophyll yet absorb slightly different wavelengths of light.

"The model suggests the changes won't appear huge to the naked eye, and the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and poles", said Dutkiewicz.

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