Hats Off to Phytoplankton

Megan McCardle talks about the latest attempt to get a global warming scare going again. They’ve pretty much been laughed at on regular global warming. (Yes, it’s hot in some areas of the country now, but it’s always been that way. Trust me. We have been having heat waves like this for thousands of years.)

So now, the latest scare is to say that the Phytoplankton are dying out. That the entire world food chain is based on the Phytoplankton, and since they are dying out, we are about to die out.

But it turns out this is nothing new. Phytoplankton die out, and come back on a regular schedule. It seems to be connected with El Nino and La Nina. From WUWT:

That sounds scary. Does it make any sense? Phytoplankton thrive everywhere on the planet from the Arctic to the tropics. One of the primary goals of this year’s Catlin expedition was to study the effect of increased CO2 on phytoplankton in the Arctic. They reported

Uptake of CO2 by phytoplankton increases as ocean acidity increases

That sounds like good news for Joe!  We also know that phytoplankton have been around for billions of years, surviving average global temperatures 10C higher and CO2 levels 20X higher than the present.


Phytoplankton growth/reduction in the tropics correlates closely with ENSO. El Nñio causes populations to reduce, and La Niña causes the populations to increase.

During an El Niño year, warm waters from the Western Pacific Ocean spread out over much of the basin as upwelling subsides in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Upwelling brings cool, nutrient-rich water from the deep ocean up to the surface. So, when upwelling weakens, phytoplankton do not get enough nutrients to maintain their growth. As a result, surface waters turn into “marine deserts” with unusually low populations of phytoplankton and other tiny organisms. With less food, fish cannot survive in the surface water, which then also deprives seabirds of food.

During La Niña conditions, the opposite effect occurs as the easterly trade winds pick up and upwelling intensifies, bringing nutrients to the surface waters, which fuels phytoplankton growth. Sometimes, the growth can take place quickly, developing into what scientists call phytoplankton “blooms.”


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