Climate Change Will Begin Changing the Color of the Ocean

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Numbers of phytoplankton in areas such as the subtropics are predicted to fall, causing oceans to take on a much bluer colour. These organisms are responsible for much of the colour we see. Fewer phytoplankton cause the water to look bluer, while more give it a greener hue.

"The basic pattern will still be there", said Research Scientist Stephanie Dutkiewicz in a press release from MIT.

Dr Anna Hickman, the co-author of the research from the school of the ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton, stated, "In the same way that plants on land are green, phytoplankton are green as well, so the amount and different types of phytoplankton affect the colour of the ocean surface".

The research effort for the new finding was two-fold: Scientists built a detailed model of phytoplankton communities across the globe to accurately simulate the impacts of climate change on the ratios of different algae species. "But it'll be enough different that it will affect the rest of the food web that phytoplankton supports". The report stated so through a simulation model on the growth and interaction of different species of phytoplankton, or algae and how due to the rise in temperatures globally, the mix of these species would change.

Since the late 1990s, satellites have been taking continuous measurements of the ocean's colour to determine the amount of chlorophyll-and, in turn, phytoplankton-in an oceanic region.

Instead of looking to derived estimates of chlorophyll, the team wondered whether they could see a clear signal of climate change's effect on phytoplankton by looking at satellite measurements of reflected light alone.

Regions where there are a lot of nutrients, like in the Southern Ocean or parts of the North Atlantic, will see even faster-growing phytoplankton because those waters are warming with climate change.

In other words, oceans that are rich in phytoplankton tend to look greener, whereas tropical waters with less phytoplankton take on an Instagram-worthy blue or turquoise hue. As such, the ocean appears blue. Those levels can change because of weather events or because of climate change.

A United Nations-backed panel of scientists said a year ago that it will require "unprecedented" action over the coming decade for the world to limit warming and stave off the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

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"And it will likely be one of the earliest warning signals that we have changed the ecology of the ocean".

Scientists say there will be less of them in the waters in the decades to come.

"Other things will absorb or scatter it, like something with a hard shell".

The ocean's waters show the colour they do depending on the light they reflect: Large swaths of water containing just water molecules reflect blue. "So it's a complicated process, how light is reflected back out of the ocean to give it its colour".

"We're going to be able to see - not by eye but by instrument - that the colour of the ocean is changed".

Climate change will bring a color change to half of the world's oceans by the end of the21st century, the study says.

"It could be potentially quite serious", Dutkiewicz added.

Phytoplankton are the base of the food web, Dutkiewicz said, and they are extremely diverse.

Climate change is already having profound effects on our planet, and here's one more: It's changing the color of the oceans, with the blues getting bluer and the greens getting greener.