Climate change driving changes of plankton in our ocean

Published by  News archive

On 18th Nov 2022

Icebergs melting in the Atlantic
Getty images

Scientists have discovered that the heating up of the North Atlantic is causing plankton to shift and change in abundance, indicating a threat to the earth’s climate.

The study reveals the transforming levels of plankton in the ocean and involved an international team of researchers including Marine Research Plymouth (MRP) partners, the Marine Biological Association (MBA), University of Plymouth, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of East Anglia.

Data including in situ chemical measurements and biological observations from the CPR Survey were gathered from 1982 to 2020. The data agreed with predictions that within the subpolar regions of the North Atlantic - that the abundance of diatoms, a type of plankton, is increasing, while there is a decrease observed in the subtropics.

The researchers, led by Dr Clare Ostle, Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Research Fellow and Pacific Coordinator from the MBA, have shown that these predicted changes are already occurring and the ocean carbon sink, the absorption of more carbon than it releases, is being impacted. This could have a knock-on effect on the global carbon cycle and the regulation of the earth’s climate.

Plankton are a diverse collection of tiny organisms found in water, and a vital food source for many organisms. Their activity in the ocean helps regulate the absorption of carbon from the atmosphere to the ocean.

The data suggests that if ocean temperatures continue to rise and changes in plankton mixing and abundance continues, global declines of plankton productivity could occur and have a long-term impact on our entire ocean ecosystem. The findings are published in the journal IOP Science.

Dr Ostle said: “Here we have shown the importance of the planktonic composition and how changes in abundance are influencing the exchange of carbon. We have been able to show that the modelled predictions for changes in ocean productivity with continued global warming are occurring already, and that this will likely have further implications for carbon exchange and the earth’s climate in the future.”

Prof Carol Robinson, one of the study’s authors based at the Centre for Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) at UEA, said: “This unique study brought together plankton data collected with the CPR and CO2 data collated by colleagues at UEA as part of SOCAT, to show how the role of plankton in the ocean carbon sink is affected by increasing global temperatures.

“These results show just how vital it is to collect scientific data over many decades through international partnerships across the globe. Without these types of collaboration, we could not have discerned the gradual but highly significant impacts of climate change seen in this study”.

The CPR Survey operated by the MBA is the longest running and most geographically extensive marine survey in the world.

This survey, which reached its milestone 90th Anniversary in 2021, has helped shape scientific understanding about the health of our ocean, and how marine life is changing in response to pressures like climate change.

The surface ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT) is a publicly available dataset including more than 33.7 million observations collected since 1957. SOCAT underpins biogeochemical and climate research to inform policy.

Multidecadal changes in biology influence the variability of the North Atlantic carbon sink is published in IOP Science.

 

Latest News

 
Two panels of the climate change mural artwork
25 Nov 2022

Climate change mural now on display at Norwich City Hall in historic year for Climatic Research Unit

On the 50th anniversary year of UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), the stark impact of climate change has been brought into focus by a giant mural now on...

Read more >
 
25 Nov 2022

Subsidence control reduces flood risk in China’s coastal communities in China

New research suggests that implementation of a national policy of subsidence control would greatly reduce the impacts on sea level rise for people living in...

Read more >
 
Chimneys with smoke
23 Nov 2022

UEA receives share of £5 million investment

UEA is part of a UK research consortium led by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) to receive £5 million investment to grow national greenhouse gas...

Read more >
 
UEA Climbing club before and after shaving their heads for charity fundraiser
23 Nov 2022

UEA Climbing club members brave the shave in solidarity with president’s alopecia diagnosis

On Wednesday 26 October, UEA Climbing president Nina Hatton-Perkins and her club members ran a head-shaving fundraiser for Alopecia UK, a small national charity...

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
 
UEA Climbing club before and after shaving their heads for charity fundraiser
23 Nov 2022

UEA Climbing club members brave the shave in solidarity with president’s alopecia diagnosis

On Wednesday 26 October, UEA Climbing president Nina Hatton-Perkins and her club members ran a head-shaving fundraiser for Alopecia UK, a small national charity...

Read more >
 
An elderly couple dancing.
21 Nov 2022

£2.6 million to fund largest ever study into social prescribing for dementia

Researchers at the University of East Anglia will investigate how social prescribing could be used in promoting a higher quality of life for people living with...

Read more >
 
Icebergs melting in the Atlantic
18 Nov 2022

Climate change driving changes of plankton in our ocean

Scientists have discovered that the heating up of the North Atlantic is causing plankton to shift and change in abundance, indicating a threat to the earth’s...

Read more >
 
A woman sat at a home-working desk.
17 Nov 2022

Satisfaction with working from home is distinct from job satisfaction, new study shows

New research reveals that influences on the job satisfaction of homeworkers are no different from those normally associated with it; but influences on their...

Read more >
 
Degree Apprenticeship programme team with their prize
01 Nov 2022

Clinical Associate in Psychology training wins national award

The national development of the Clinical Associate in Psychology degree apprenticeship, which UEA has played a key part in establishing, has won the Workforce...

Read more >