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Arctic plankton will switch from sink to source in warmer oceans

May 8, 2013

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Mounting evidence confirming the effects of a 5°C increase in the Arctic Ocean temperature has led an international team of researchers to issue a stark warning about the perils the world faces in the near future.


‘This research revealed that the two-week spring algal bloom occurring in April as the Arctic emerges from its winter darkness and the sea-ice starts to thin is so productive it can fuel the food web for the entire year and remove significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere on an annual basis,’ he said.

However, experiments involving temperature manipulations conducted in the Svalbard Islands (about 650 kilometres north of mainland Europe), indicated that the plankton community switches from acting as a sink to acting as a source of CO2 to the atmosphere at seawater temperatures in excess of 5°C. The researchers noted that this temperature will be regularly observed in the European Sector of the Arctic Ocean over the coming decades.

‘Warmer temperatures enhance respiration rates by plankton organisms, particularly bacteria, leading to a shift in the size of photosynthetic plankton size, which decompose quickly and result in a major release of CO2 from excess respiration,’ study co-author, UWA Oceans Institute and School of Plant Biology Professor Susana Agusti said.

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