Rising Temperatures Will Change the Color of the Oceans — Bluer Planet

Birdseye shot of green ocean creating waves on a sandy beach

Climate change will even change the color of the oceans, study says

Scientists have predicted that if this continues, ocean colours would change by the end of the century. But using those images to look at reflected light alone, the researchers in the new study could distinguish what is specifically due to climate change.

In one of the starkest forecasts about climate change so far, MIT researchers have warned in Nature Communications that skewed ocean temperatures are causing significant change to the tiny creatures known as phytoplankton.

The study predicts that the blues will intensify, most likely in subtropical regions where phytoplankton will decrease.

Relatively barren open-ocean regions appear as deep blue from space.

Oceans are the earth's lungs, as well as its biggest temperature regulator, absorbing much of the increasing atmospheric heat.

Mayotte, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

As ocean temperatures rise - perhaps as much as 4.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the aforementioned timeframe - the growth of the plankton will be heightened, making the blues and the greens of the ocean more vibrant, as sunlight interacts with water molecules and the blue part of the spectrum of sunlight hits it.

They also play an important role in how we see the oceans with our eyes.

The shifting colors of the ocean is tied to the organisms that live in the surface of the water. They pull carbon into the ocean while giving off oxygen.

The ocean will not look the same color in the future.

But phytoplankton are vulnerable to the ocean's current warming trend.

Experts say if we carry on "business as usual" then the majority of water covering our planet will unnaturally become bluer and greener by the year 2100.

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"Sunlight will come into the ocean, and anything that's in the ocean will absorb it, like chlorophyll", Dutkiewicz says.

This change in color is bad for a number of reasons, according to the study.

Phytoplankton contain a pigment which soaks up the blue portions as part of the photosynthesis process, but less of the green.

Costa hopes this latest report will reinforce the importance of understanding the effects of climate change on the world's oceans, noting phytoplankton are "very important in the carbon cycle".

The culprit? Climate change.

The changes should be visible to satellites in low-Earth orbit.

The scientists have created a model to predict the shifts in colour but satellite imagery will be needed to detect potentially devastating changes to marine ecosystems. Without them, there could be catastrophic changes in both the food chain of the sea and the overall climate.

Rarotonga, in the Pacific Ocean.

'Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, that will also change the types of food webs they can support'.

"This finding reinforces the importance of long-term monitoring of phytoplankton community composition", she added. Using this data, they estimated the levels of chlorophyll in the oceans and tried to determine how they were affected by climate change and weather phenomena like El Niño or La Niña events.

"It'll be a while before we can statistically show that".

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