By the end of the 21st century most of the oceans will change color

Climate change causes significant changes in the state of phytoplankton in the World ocean, and a new study by MIT has shown that in coming decades these changes will greatly affect the color of the ocean, enhancing its blue and green region. Satellites should detect these changes of hue and provide early warning of widespread changes to marine ecosystems.

In the journal Nature Communications, scientists report that they have developed a global model that simulates the growth and interaction of different types of phytoplankton, or algae, and how the mixture of species in different places will change when the temperature around the world. The researchers also modeled as phytoplankton absorbs and reflects light, and how to change the color of the ocean, as global warming affects the community composition of phytoplankton.

The researchers tested their model by scrolling it to the end of the 21st century, and found that by 2100 more than 50% of the world’s oceans will change their color due to climate change.

Research suggests that the blue region, such as the subtropics will become even more blue, because the phytoplankton will be smaller — and life in General in these waters, when compared to the current situation. Some regions, which are now more green, like those near the poles can become even greener, as higher temperatures lead to the spread of various phytoplankton..

“This model suggests that the naked eye these changes will be difficult to ignore, and the ocean will still look as if he’s got the blue areas in the subtropics and more green near the equator and the poles,” says lead author Stephanie Dutkevich from the Department of Earth Sciences, atmosphere and the planet the Massachusetts Institute of technology. “This basic scheme will remain the same. However, profound changes will be substantial enough to affect the rest of the food chain, which is based on the phytoplankton”.

The color of the oceans depends on the amount of chlorophyll

The color of the ocean depends on how sunlight interacts with what is in the water. Only water molecules absorb almost all sunlight except the blue part of the spectrum, she reflected. Consequently, a relatively barren region of the open ocean appear dark blue from space. If there are any organisms that they can absorb and reflect light waves of different lengths, depending on their individual properties.

Phytoplankton, for example, contains chlorophyll, the pigment that absorbs mainly blue portions of sunlight, producing carbon for photosynthesis, and to a lesser extent, the green part. As a result, more green light is reflected from the ocean, which gives the areas, rich in algae, a greenish tint.

Since the late 1990-ies of satellites are constantly measured ocean color. The researchers used these measurements to obtain the number of chlorophyll and, consequently, phytoplankton in a particular area of the ocean. But, Dutkewych says that chlorophyll does not necessarily reflect the sensing signal of climate change. Any significant fluctuations in chlorophyll may be due to global warming, but also to “natural variability”, normal periodic shifts in chlorophyll due to natural phenomena associated with weather.

“Event-level El niño or La niña will cause very large changes in the chlorophyll, because it changes the amount of nutrients entering the system,” says Dutkewych. “Because of these great, natural changes that happen every few years, it is difficult to understand, will the situation change because of climate change, if you just look at chlorophyll”.

Modeling ocean of light

Instead of looking at the estimates of chlorophyll, the team wondered whether it is possible to see a clear signal about the impact of climate change on phytoplankton, if you only look at satellite measurements of the reflected light.

The group has refined computer model, which was used in the past to predict changes in phytoplankton with increasing temperature and ocean acidification. This model takes information about the phytoplankton, such as its food consumption, and as it grows, and includes this information in the physical model that shows ocean currents and mixing.

This time, however, scientists have added a new model element that has not been included in other methods of modeling of the ocean: the ability to evaluate specific wavelengths of light that are absorbed and reflected by the ocean, depending on the number and type of organisms in a particular region.

“Sunlight hits the ocean, and all that is in the ocean, it absorbs like chlorophyll,” says Dutkewych. “Other things will absorb it or scatter. So to determine how light will reflect off of the ocean and give it a color, is hard enough.

It turned out that the model of scientists can be used to predict the color of the ocean under changing environmental conditions in the future. And the best part is that it can be used in the laboratory.

The signal in blue-green tones

When scientists added to the model of global temperature and increased by 3 degrees by 2100 — that is the forecast of the majority of scholars, if no action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be made — they found that wavelengths of light in the blue and green parts of the spectrum react the fastest.

Moreover, this blue-green wave range shows a very clear signal, or shift associated with climate change: the shift occurs sooner than expected, when the researchers looked at the chlorophyll.

“Chlorophyll is changing, but you can’t see it because of great natural variability,” says Dutkewych. “However, you can see significant climate change in some of these frequency bands in the signal sent to the satellites. So it is here that we must look for the real signal changes in satellite measurements.”

According to scientists, climate change is already changing the composition of phytoplankton, and thus the color of the oceans. By the end of the century our planet will change dramatically.

“By the end of the 21st century will be noticeable variation in color is 50% of the oceans. The change will be quite serious. Different types of phytoplankton differently absorb light, and if climate change will shift one phytoplankton community to others, it will also change the types of food chains that they can support”.

Do you support the fight against climate change?