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Global warming is reducing ocean life, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, say scientists

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Alarming new satellite data show that the warming of the worlds oceans is reducing ocean life while contributing to increased global warming.

The oceans food chain is based upon the growth of billions upon billions of microscopic plants. New satellite data show that ocean warming is reducing these plants thus imperiling ocean fisheries and marine life, according to an article in the Nov. 7 issue of the scientific journal Nature.

We show on a global scale that the growth of these plants, called phytoplankton, is strongly tied to changes in the warming of the ocean, said David Siegel, co-author and professor of marine science in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Siegel is also director of the Institute for Computational Earth System Science (ICESS).

Phytoplankton grow faster in a cool ocean and slower in a warm one, said Siegel. The scary part is that the oceans are warming now probably caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

These microscopic plants are predicted to grow even slower in the warmer oceans of the future. This in turn will reduce the food available to fish and other organisms, including marine birds and mammals, which are supported by the oceans food chain. Phytoplankton are responsible for about the same amount of photosynthesis each year as all the plants on land combined.

Another disturbing result of reduced phytoplankton is that our atmosphere depends on the consumption of atmospheric carbon dioxide by these plants. Reduced phytoplankton means less carbon dioxide is taken up by the ocean, which could speed global warming, contributing to a vicious cycle of increased warming.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere play a big part in global warming, said lead author Michael Behrenfeld of Oregon State University. This study shows that as the climate warms, phytoplankton growth rate
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
6-Dec-2006


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