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Impacts of Anthropologic Climate Change on Phytoplankton

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 2274 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Introduction:  Phytoplankton are a valuable part of the ocean’s ecosystem and act as the foundation for its food web to support a diverse range of life (Gittings, Raitsos, Krokos, and Hoteit, 2018). They also represent half of all photosynthesis activity on Earth.  Which means they sequester mass amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to make oxygen (Basu, & Mackey, 2018).    Without them, the ocean food chain would destabilize at higher trophic levels; oceans could become oxygen deficient, with the concentration of carbon dioxide intensifying in the atmosphere.  Research on this topic is consequential because climate change has begun to warm and acidify the oceans, causing the death and migration of phytoplankton (Boyce, Lewis, and Worm, 2010).

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Thesis Statement:  Anthropologic climate change presents a critical impact on oxygen levels and the aquatic food web, by impairing a valuable primary producer, phytoplankton.   By limiting the reliance on fossil fuels and implementing other forms of energy, nations can make a global impact in lowering carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and help prevent the warming and acidification of the oceans. 

Annotation 1:


Boyce, D., Lewis, M., Worm, B. (2010) Global phytoplankton decline over the past Century.  Retrieved from, http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=ac064ad9-d705-4488-a898-f03a4de9f4b9%40sessionmgr103


Important data which supports the consequential impact climate change is having on phytoplankton is a measurement of their population over the last century.  The science article collects and evaluates long-term studies on phytoplankton biomass tracing back to 1899.  It does this through measuring the total chlorophyll pigment concentration (‘Chl’) on ocean transparency reports.  The reported data which was analyzed “consisted of 445,237 globally disributed Chl measurements” (pg. 591).  Reports which were utilized are also provided in the article references.   A mixture of graphs and statistics are used to communicate the findings from the research in highlighting phytoplankton growth and migration.   The article is also beneficial as it explains the most reliable approach to measuring phytoplankton density.  Chl is often referred to in other science journals, but an appropriate definition is not usually provided. 

Their research concludes that phytoplankton populations have fallen by forty percent due to the oceans gradually warming.  The problem being more pronounced in some regions than others due to geographical differences.  Also discussed is the issue of nutrient stratification in the lower levels of the ocean and it not making it to the surface of the water where the phytoplankton live.   This is also a result of warming waters, and the increased salinity.  Phytoplankton have become more reliant upon storms in those warmer regions to mix the lower waters in with the upper. Multiple scholarly sources are also cited throughout emphasizing the reliance of the ecosystem functionality upon the vitality of phytoplankton.   This research supports the critical impact warming oceans have upon phytoplankton, and thus the consequences climate change has had already.

Annotation 2:


Gittings, J., Raitsos, D., Krokos, G., and Hoteit, I. (2018) Impacts of warming on phytoplankton abundance and phenology in a typical tropical marine ecosystem.  Retrieved from, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-20560-5


This scientific article takes a closer examination of the impact of thermal stratification on phytoplankton growth and phenology.  The phytoplankton growth cycle is explained, as is their reliance upon nutrient rich surface waters.  Using satellite-derived Chl observations and modelled datasets the authors evaluate the northern Red Sea – and associate its warming to phytoplankton; blooms, growth and termination.  Through analyzing interannual variability between the years of 1998 and 2015 concerning these metrics, the researchers were able to demonstrate a correlation between warmer weather and; stunted phytoplankton blooms, which initiated later in addition to terminating sooner (four weeks sooner).   Phytoplankton’s biomass (abundance) was also negatively impaired in warmer conditions. 

The findings concluded that tropical marine ecosystems will need to adapt to a reduction in phytoplankton populations, in addition to an alteration in phenology.  Which is a concerning issue because much of the marine ecosystem rely on them for energy, which is felt at higher trophic levels in the food chain.  This means there is a later and smaller window in the phytoplankton’s life cycle.  The Red Sea is significant because it is an ‘important economic asset’ in addition to supporting one of the largest coral reefs on the planet, home to a vast scale of aquatic life. 

This source relates to the essay because of the implications the article supports.  Less vertical mixing is present in warmer waters – reducing phytoplankton abundance.  Higher trophic levels could become undernourished to the timing of food availability with the delay of bloom, or absence of phytoplankton all together.  This could leave coastal regions which depend on the local fish for nourishment or their economy in hardship.  The biodiversity which phytoplankton supports could be placed in real jeopardy should the Red Sea continue to warm without storms to mix the lower level nutrients.  Also shared within the article are studies which demonstrate the negative impacts phytoplankton phenology has on commercially important species in other oceanic regions. 

Annotation 3:


Basu, S., Mackey, K. (2018) Phytoplankton as Key Mediators of the Biological Carbon Pump: Their Responses to a Changing Climate.  Retrieved from, https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/3/869/htm


The article centers around the important role oceans play in sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and its most productive asset in doing this; phytoplankton.   The existence of these microscopic algae lifeforms allows the atmosphere concentration of carbon dioxide to be significantly lower than what it would be if they weren’t present.  The functionality of the oceans as a carbon dioxide sink relies heavily on the health and abundance of phytoplankton.  Covered within the article are also the different types of phytoplankton species, such as picoplanktonic cyanobacteria, which may bloom and outcompete the more efficient ones due to more favorable conditions for them. 

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Sequestering carbon dioxide is a great tool in reducing its presence in the atmosphere, and thus preventing the oceans from further warming.  This source uses multiple credible sources in order to illustrate the importance of Earth’s natural carbon dioxide sinks.  And supports that the ocean is responsible for nearly one third of all carbon dioxide sequestering.  This also accounts for its dropping pH, resulting in the water becoming more acidic vs. alkaline when carbon dioxide bonds and becomes carbonic acid.  Water pH is something many marine species are sensitive to.  

The article is beneficial in communicating the need for additional sequestering resources to help combat carbon dioxide emissions while we move away from fossil fuels.  Initiatives such as reforestation or carbon capture traps are solutions which would help lower concentrations.  Helping to preserve one of our largest Co2 sinks, phytoplankton, before the waters become to thermally stratified to support them.

The article employs the use of past studies and statistics to support the correlation of human activity to carbon dioxide emissions, which have nearly doubled over the last century (400 ppm).  It is projected to nearly triple that by the end of this century (800-1,000 ppm).  And if the planet didn’t have its oceans to sequester the Co2 from the atmosphere, levels would be about 400 ppm higher than they are currently.  This information assists in communicating what a valuable resource phytoplankton are, as they are responsible for almost ninety percent of all photosynthesis activity in oceans. 

Annotation 4:


Oludaisi, A., Kayode, A., & Ayodeji, O. (2017). Bridging Environmental Impact of Fossil Fuel Energy: The Contributing Role of Alternative Energy. Journal of Engineering Studies and Research, 23(2), 22-27. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/docview/2033732029?accountid=32521


The study highlights current energy reliance upon the combustion of fossil fuels such as; coal, gas and oil.  And the importance research and implementation of renewable energy sources in lower carbon dioxide emissions.  Energy statistics from primary sources are cited throughout the journal, such as fossil fuels being the source of 85 percent of global energy today.  Emphasized are also the dangers that come with one day depleting this non-renewable energy source, and not having an alternative to replace it.  The authors discuss alternative energy sources such as; biomass fuels, nuclear, geothermal, wind, solar etc. throughout and weighs their viability.

This information reinforces the current global reliance upon carbon dioxide – and that there are viable other options available.  It strengthens the other essay sources in communicating the global dependency on carbon dioxide to complete any number of societal transactions.  While referencing numerous credible sources which detail the negative effects warming temperatures and rising sea levels have on the world.   Direct results of high carbon dioxide concentrations due to growing global energy requirements with no clean energy transitioning.

Annotation 5:


Jacobson, M. (2017) Roadmaps to Transition Countries to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy for All Purposes to Curtail Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Risk.  Retrieved from, https://agupubs-onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/doi/full/10.1002/2017EF000672


Jacobson’s article builds upon a collection of previous studies in order to create a roadmap which transitions 139 Countries to 100 percent clean and renewable energy.  Detailed are ambitious timelines such as, 80 percent transition by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.  Such a quick conversion is in regard to the Paris Agreements Act’s goal to stabilize the average temperature from raising another 2 degrees Celsius.  The article supports how electrifying everything will allow a mass implementation of renewable energy with wind, water and solar power (heating & cooling, transportation, industry, agriculture, electricity, etc.).  And asserts with supplementing sources that investments will be returned many times over through energy savings, health costs, and environmental savings.  In addition to the creation of many ‘green jobs’ vs. the loss of those which fossil fuel employed.

Insight on energy-to-work and energy-to-mine concepts are further explored regarding electric motors vs. combustion, with the potential to reduce power demand by 2050 by nearly half.  Jacobson shares that electric motors are more efficient than combustion, which require a lot of energy in order to heat.  By converting to electric energy and employing device efficiency measures power demand drops by nearly a third, ‘energy-to-work’.  And by forgoing the transportation and processing of fossil fuels in order to access that energy source another twelve percent in energy requirements is reduced, ‘energy-to-mine’.

If no transition measures are implemented which acknowledge energy efficiency and renewability, power demands are projected to grow from 12.1 to 20.6 TW by 2050 (para 9).  Detailed within the article are the necessary electric power generators (wind turbines, geothermal power, wave power, solar photovoltaics, hydroelectric dams…), their power output, and electricity storage (batteries, solar power storage, pumped storage…). 

The source serves as a constructive part of the solution to mitigate climate change, and limit Co2 emissions.  The author employs credible sources of information which support the feasibility of a global renewable energy transition.


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