Has climate change cut plankton’s oxygen production?

A number of marine diatom cells from the Pleurosigma family, which are an important group of phytoplankton in the oceans. Credit: Michael Stringer, photo courtesy of Nikon Small World.

A number of marine diatom cells from the Pleurosigma family, which are an important group of phytoplankton in the oceans. Credit: Michael Stringer, photo courtesy of Nikon Small World.

Simple Climate readers are alongside some of the world’s finest minds in asking questions that trouble even leading climate scientists. That’s the conclusion that I’ve reached after trying to help reader Marc Piore answer a question based on research covered here back in July.

The particular study that troubled him was an assessment of ocean phytoplankton levels from 1899 to today published in top journal Nature. In it, Boris Worm and his colleagues at Dalhousie University, Canada, found that the populations of phytoplankton in the oceans had fallen 40% since 1950, crediting climate change as the cause of the decline. At the time Worm was widely quoted as saying that phytoplankton is responsible for producing “half the oxygen we breathe”.

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