Claim: Warming to ‘upset’ vital ocean chemical cycles — But ‘seem to’ proof ≠ science

“Under warmer temperatures, marine micro-algae do not seem to produce as many ribosomes as under lower temperatures.”

The media release is below.


Climate change will upset vital ocean chemical cycles

New research from the University of East Anglia shows that rising ocean temperatures will upset natural cycles of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorous.

Plankton plays an important role in the ocean’s carbon cycle by removing half of all CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and storing it deep under the sea – isolated from the atmosphere for centuries.

Findings published today in the journal Nature Climate Change reveal that water temperature has a direct impact on maintaining the delicate plankton ecosystem of our oceans.

The new research means that ocean warming will impact plankton, and in turn drive a vicious cycle of climate change.

Researchers from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences and the School of Computing Sciences investigated phytoplankton – microscopic plant-like organisms that rely on photosynthesis to reproduce and grow.

Lead researcher Dr Thomas Mock, said: “Phytoplankton, including micro-algae, are responsible for half of the carbon dioxide that is naturally removed from the atmosphere. As well as being vital to climate control, it also creates enough oxygen for every other breath we take, and forms the base of the food chain for fisheries so it is incredibly important for food security.

“Previous studies have shown that phytoplankton communities respond to global warming by changes in diversity and productivity. But with our study we show that warmer temperatures directly impact the chemical cycles in plankton, which has not been shown before.”

Collaborators from the University of Exeter, who are co-authors of this study, developed computer generated models to create a global ecosystem model that took into account world ocean temperatures, 1.5 million plankton DNA sequences taken from samples, and biochemical data.

“We found that temperature plays a critical role in driving the cycling of chemicals in marine micro-algae. It affects these reactions as much as nutrients and light, which was not known before,” said Dr Mock.

“Under warmer temperatures, marine micro-algae do not seem to produce as many ribosomes as under lower temperatures. Ribosomes join up the building blocks of proteins in cells. They are rich in phosphorous and if they are being reduced, this will produce higher ratios of nitrogen compared to phosphorous, increasing the demand for nitrogen in the oceans.

“This will eventually lead to a greater prevalence of blue-green algae called cyanobacteria which fix atmospheric nitrogen,” he added.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), 454 Life Sciences (Roche), the Leverhulme Trust, the European Union (FP7), the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Earth and Life Systems Alliance (ELSA).

‘The impact of temperature on marine phytoplankton resource allocation and metabolism’ by A Toseland, SJ Daines, JR Clark, A Kirkham, J Strauss, C Uhlig, TM Lenton, K Valentin, GA Pearson, V Moulton and T Mock is published in Nature Climate Change.

9 thoughts on “Claim: Warming to ‘upset’ vital ocean chemical cycles — But ‘seem to’ proof ≠ science”

  1. Any operator could tell you that just from watching the color of the algae in plant ditches. In fact, given that the temperature affects the behavior, you’d think it tautological that it affected interior chemistry.

    I think this is a wonderful example of “if you don’t set up your experiment properly, it’s very easy to prove something stupid.”

  2. Les, the problem is location.
    Let’s assume you’re the proverbial frog getting cooked in a pot. You can tell how you are being cooked by what part warms up first and is hottest. If the bottom gets warmed up first, then you are on the stove.If the top warms first, then you are under a broiler. If it’s even, then you are in the oven.

    Now, if the earth was warming due to a volcano, that would mean that the oceans were warming fastest at a localized area. However, such a warm front would be seen by the Argo bouy system, and probaby by a lot less sensitive instruments as well. Therefore, we can rule out volcanos as a source.

    Ironically, this analysis also eliminates he greenhouse gas effect, as that would create high warming in the atmosphere’s best absorption-re-emittance area about 10km up. This hot spot doesn’t exist.

  3. That is exactly so, up to a certain point beyond which more ribosomes will be needed. Most biological activities, including ribosomal, have a temperature optimum, which may or may not fall within the range of living conditions. On either side of the optimum, the activity will increase or decrease with temperature.

    The production and assembly of ribosomes themselves is temperature-dependent, to such a degree that made people speculate whether it played a role in adaptation:

  4. I may be a bit off topic here and this info has probably been posted here somewhere before.
    Fox news (Sheppard Smith) reported last week on a story about a massive volcano right here on earth. The kicker came when he noted this volcano was the largest in this solar system. Gets better! This massive volcano is under the Pacific Ocean and is millions of years old.
    Now, I remember reading an article, and I think I read it on this website, about a scientist being ridiculed because he attributed the warming and cooling of earth’s oceans to undersea volcanoes.
    I am no scientist but it sounded reasonable to me and I could not understand the ridicule because no critics were citing any research to back their criticism.
    Now comes this news about this massive volcano in the Pacific and I’m curious as to where those critics are lurking. Probably working for me drawing my tax dollars somewhere as a government administrator. Sigh!!!

  5. One celled life is the same temperature as their environment. Chemical reactions occur more rapidly. It could very well be there are fewer ribosomes because fewer ribosomes are needed to achieve the same number of reactions at a higher temperature.

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