The critical phytoplankton base of the ocean food web is shrinking as the world’s seas warm.
The discovery has scientists worried about how much food will grow in the future for the world’s marine life.
“Phytoplankton are essentially the grain crop of the world’s oceans. Phytoplankton, which turn sunlight into food, need nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphates and iron from colder water below”, Behrenfeld said.
With warmer surface water, it’s harder for the phytoplankton to get those nutrients.
“A NASA satellite found that as water temperatures increased from 1999 to 2004, the crop of phytoplankton dropped about 200 million tons a year (average production is about 50 billion tons per year)” Behrenfeld said.
“During that time, regions around the equator in the Pacific, saw as much as a 50 percent drop in phytoplankton production”, he said.
With reduced phytoplankton, the world’s oceans will suck up less carbon dioxide, increasing the Earth’s chief global warming gas.
This is at least the third significant peer-reviewed research paper in the past six months showing that long-anticipated global warming biological side effects are already happening.
A study earlier this year linked increases in Western U.S. wildfires to global warming and a mega-study showed that dozens of species of plants and animals were dying off from global warming.
“What you’re looking at is almost an avalanche of each individual effect,” said Stanford University biological sciences professor Stephen Schneider.
“As it gets warmer and as we measure more things, the evidence accumulates.”