ORONO, Maine - Tiny marine plants known as phytoplankton provide clues to the health of the oceans and the state of the climate, but for half a century, scientists have struggled to estimate changes in the size and condition of phytoplankton stocks. A team of researchers, including Emmanuel Boss of the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences, is now reporting a major step in improving such estimates by using satellite data to determine phytoplankton growth rates and physiology.
In addition to Boss, the authors of the new report are Michael J. Behrenfeld of Oregon State University; David A. Siegel of the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Donald M. Shea of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Their report appears in the January issue of the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles and was the subject of a news conference at NASA today. Funding came from NASA and the National Science Foundation.
Chlorophyll, the green pigment that powers photosynthesis, has long been the benchmark for estimates of the size of phytoplankton populations and how productive they are. The new approach comes down, in a sense, to the color of water and intensity of that light as seen from space. If accepted broadly by marine scientists, it could lead to significant revisions in estimates of how much carbon the oceans absorb from the atmosphere. It may also lead to new understanding of how shifts in phytoplankton populations echo through marine ecosystems, from the smallest bacteria to whales.
Phytoplankton provide the foundation for marine fisheries and, like all plants, help regulate the climate by using carbon to grow. These microscopic life forms include diatoms that build complex geometric skeletons, so-called "red tide" organisms that produce toxins and photosynthetic bacteria that may be among the most abundant species on Earth.
While scientists have used measurements of chlorophyll to estimate the size or biomass of phytoplanktPage: 1 2 3 Related biology news :1
Contact: Emmanuel Boss
University of Maine
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