Climate Change Will Alter The Colour Of The Oceans, New Research Finds

Birdseye shot of green ocean creating waves on a sandy beach

They also "fix" nitrogen (convert Nitrogen from the air into compounds), making them an important part in the enrichment of oceanic waters.

Phytoplankton contain chlorophyll, a pigment which absorbs the blue portions of sunlight to produce carbon for photosynthesis.

"The basic pattern will still be there", said Research Scientist Stephanie Dutkiewicz in a press release from MIT.

Kids may be using different shades of blue and green Crayolas to color their pictures of the ocean by the end of the 21st Century, according to a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study.

Phytoplankton are microscopic algae that float at the bottom of the ocean food web, forming a key part of most ocean ecosystems.

After building their ocean model, which simulated how global warming's effects on temperature, acidification, currents and mixing will impact the metabolism and proliferation of different phytoplankton species, researchers incorporated their spectral analysis to simulate the impacts of shifts in phytoplankton communities on the ocean's color.

Since the 1990s, satellites have taken regular measurements of how much chlorophyll is in the ocean.

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.

This will happen because some species of phytoplankton will respond well to a warmer environment and will create larger blooms of more diverse marine organisms.

"Phytoplankton provide the organic matter that feeds nearly everything else in the ocean", Dutkiewicz said.

"What this study is trying to explain is that in parallel to measuring the amount of phytoplankton in the water, we should also be measuring the light coming from the water", Maycira Costa, professor and coastal oceanography researcher at the University of Victoria, told CTV News. But Dutkiewicz says chlorophyll doesn't necessarily have reflect the sensitive signal of climate change.

Hickman said: "Crudely speaking, where the water is now quite blue because the phytoplankton [have a] relatively low biomass, you are going to see the water getting more blue, and where the ocean is relatively more green because the biomass is higher, you are going to see [it] getting [greener]".

While these changes may seem small, scientists say that they are deep and long-lasting. But it's been hard to detect and measure these changes, says Dutkiewicz, partly because there's so much variability in the ocean from year to year. "So it's a complicated process, how light is reflected back out of the ocean to give it its colour".

"More of the ocean is going to show a change in colour over the next few decades than we would see in chlorophyll, the changing colour is going to be more of a warning signal".

According to their model, climate change is already changing the makeup of phytoplankton, and by extension, the color of the oceans.

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

What's more, Dutkiewicz observed that this blue/green waveband showed a very clear signal, or shift, due specifically to climate change, taking place much earlier than what scientists have previously found when they looked to chlorophyll, which they projected would exhibit a climate-driven change by 2055. "Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, that will also change the types of food webs they can support".

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