Oct. 20, 2014

Picture of the Week: Phytoplankton

by Sarah Lewin

Click to enlarge images
These single-celled algae with hard, calcified scales form large blooms in oceans around the world—and they just might have what it takes to withstand some of climate change’s impacts, according to a study that recently appeared in Nature Climate Change.
Researchers from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, wanted to test how well algae might survive in ocean conditions similar to those associated with climate change—specifically, increased temperatures and acidification resulting from rising levels of carbon dioxide.
They chose a common, rapidly reproducing species called Emiliania huxleyi—it can produce about 500 generations per year—that had already been conditioned to survive high acidity levels. Then for a year they subjected it to water temperatures ranging from 59 degrees Fahrenheit (a bit below the ocean’s average temperature) to a warm 79.3 degrees Fahrenheit (the hottest at which it can reproduce normally).
The researchers found that specimens reproducing at higher temperatures tended to be smaller—but they also increased their growth rate by 16 percent. What's more, the algae absorbed just as much carbon into their outer scales as specimens under normal temperature conditions, despite their smaller size. 
The scientists also tried a "worst-case scenario" experiment: exposing algae that had not been previously conditioned to acidic water to both high temperatures and high acidity levels for a year.
“We wanted to give nature a really tough job,” says Thorsten Reusch, a marine ecologist at GEOMAR who oversaw the study. His team found that the algae adapted about as well as the specimens that had been exposed to one condition at a time (they absorbed slightly less carbon into their scales).
Reusch's team is now studying the genetic mutations that allowed these algae to adapt so well to their changing environment. They also plan to investigate how E. huxleyi and other algae species are able to survive under extreme conditions while also exposed to predators and competitors similar to those they’d encounter in the wild.
Still, the current research suggests that E. huxleyi and the hundreds of other rapidly reproducing phytoplankton species might be able to adapt quickly enough to survive, and even thrive, in extreme ocean conditions precipitated by climate change. That’s good news for earth’s other inhabitants.
“[Phytoplankton] are very tiny organisms, but they have a tremendous importance that most people don’t know,” says Reusch. Indeed, species like E. Huxleyi help pull carbon out of the atmosphere and down into the ocean by fixing it in their hard scales. “One can show that about 25 percent of manmade carbon, as a service to humankind, is transported via this [algae] pump to the deep oceans,” he says.
About Sarah Lewin

Sarah Lewin is a science journalist based in New York. Follow her @SarahExplains

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.
EVAL ERROR: Entity: line 1: parser error : Space required after the Public Identifier

Entity: line 1: parser error : SystemLiteral " or ' expected

Entity: line 1: parser error : SYSTEM or PUBLIC, the URI is missing


line 1: package tmpevalpackage;
line 2: sub doEval { 
line 3: 	my($parent);
line 4: 	
line 5: 	if($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'SEGMENT.nickname'}) {
line 6: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'SEGMENT.nickname'};
line 7: 	}
line 8: 	elsif($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'VIDEO.nickname'}) {
line 9: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'VIDEO.nickname'};
line 10: 	}
line 11: 	elsif($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'DOCUMENT.nickname'}) {
line 12: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'DOCUMENT.nickname'}
line 13: 	}
line 14: 	
line 15: 	if($parent) {
line 16: 		my(@books) = &Database::SelectClause('BOOK',"parent = $parent");
line 17: 		if(!@books) {
line 18: 			$parent = '';
line 19: 		}
line 20: 	}
line 21: 	
line 22: 	if(!$parent) {
line 23: 		my(@sel) = &Database::SelectClause('GLOBAL','record all ""');
line 24: 		if(@sel) {
line 25: 			$parent = 'GLOBAL.' . $sel[0];
line 26: 		}
line 27: 			$main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "FEATURED READING";
line 28: 	}
line 29: 	
line 30: 	 = '';
line 31: 	
line 32: 	if($parent) {
line 33: 		my(@books) = &Database::SelectClause('BOOK',"parent = $parent");
line 34: 		0 = 0;
line 35: 		my $dots;
line 36: 		foreach(@books) {
line 37: 			my(%data);
line 38: 			&Database::GetRow($_,'BOOK',\%data);
line 39: 			my($status,$title,$author,$url,$image,$width,$height) = &SciFri::Schema::getAmazonItem($data{'isbn'});
line 40: 			if($data{'title'}) {
line 41: 				$title = $data{'title'};
line 42: 			}
line 43: 			if($data{'author'}) {
line 44: 				$author = $data{'author'};
line 45: 			}
line 46: 			if($status eq 'ok') {
line 47: 				 .= "<div class=\"box-2x1-item box-slide\" data-href=\"$url\">";
line 48: 				 .= "	<div class=\"box-2x1-item-photo\">";
line 49: 				 .= "		<div class=\"image-wrapper\" data-jsclass=\"imageWrapper\" data-align=\"right\">";
line 50: 				 .= "			<img src=\"$image\" data-width=\"$width\" data-height=\"$height\">";
line 51: 				 .= "		</div>";
line 52: 				 .= "	</div>";
line 53: 				 .= "	<h4>$title</h4>";
line 54: 				if($author) {
line 55: 					 .= "	<p>by $author</p>";
line 56: 				}
line 57: 				 .= "	<div class=\"box-2x1-more-button\"><a href=\"$url\"><img src=\"/images/v1/icon_text_more_white.png\" width=47 height=15 border=0></a></div>";
line 58: 				 .= "</div>";
line 59: 				++0;
line 60: 			}
line 61: 		}
line 62: 	}
line 63: 	if($parent eq "GLOBAL.1") { $main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "FEATURED READING"; }
line 64: 	else { $main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "RELATED READING"; }
line 65:  };
line 66: &doEval();
line 67: 1;

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.