Earth May Lose Its Blue Colour by 2100: MIT Study

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Earth May Lose Its Blue Colour by 2100: MIT Study

By keeping a close watch on ocean colours, scientists can better understand phytoplankton and how they impact the world around them.

By simulating the world's oceans up until the year 2100, the model showed that more than 50pc of the oceans will become brighter, with the subtropics becoming more blue, indicating a lack of phytoplankton - and life itself - within the water. As the colors change, so too does the sea of life beneath.

It was also programmed to estimate the specific wavelengths of light that are absorbed and reflected by the ocean, taking into consideration the amount and type of organisms in a given region. In total, climate change will alter at least 30 percent of the ocean's color by 2100 and perhaps more than 60 percent, the researchers say.

"Colour is going to be one of the early signals", said Stephanie Dutkiewicz, a principal research scientist in MIT's Centre for Global Change Science and a co-author of Monday's study in Nature Communications. That's the color we see. They also "fix" nitrogen (convert Nitrogen from the air into compounds), making them an important part in the enrichment of oceanic waters.

Hickman said: "Crudely speaking, where the water is now quite blue because the phytoplankton [have a] relatively low biomass, you are going to see the water getting more blue, and where the ocean is relatively more green because the biomass is higher, you are going to see [it] getting [greener]".

At the heart of the phenomenon lie tiny marine microorganisms called phytoplankton, which are crucial to ocean food webs and to the global cycling of carbon - and sensitive to the temperature of ocean waters.

Phytoplankton contain chlorophyll, a pigment that mostly absorbs in the blue portions of sunlight to produce carbon for photosynthesis, and less so in the green portions.

Scientists already know that climate change is affecting plankton, with warmer waters leading to different algae species blooming in new waters, for instance.

As temperatures continue to rise, the numbers of these organisms in different locations will change causing a predicted 50% of the world's oceans to change colour.

"Chlorophyll is changing, but you can't really see it because of its incredible natural variability", Dutkiewicz says.

As well as changes in the blue of the oceans, we are also likely to see changes in the green. "But you can see a significant, climate-related shift in some of these wavebands, in the signal being sent out to the satellites". But chlorophyl is just one of many variables that influence the ocean's color. They started with a computer model used previously to predict phytoplankton changes caused by rising temperatures and ocean acidification.

"The model suggests the changes won't appear huge to the naked eye, and the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and poles", said Dutkiewicz. "It could be potentially quite serious".

That, the researchers said, was probably down to a number of factors, including that shifts in ocean colour take into account not only changes in the overall amount of phytoplankton - which can vary dramatically, for example with the season - but also changes in the species present, an important consideration since different types of phytoplankton use chlorophyll yet absorb slightly different wavelengths of light.

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