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Phytoplankton rapidly disappearing from the Indian Ocean

Loss of mini marine plants at base of food web threatens sea’s ecology

By
7:00am, February 1, 2016

WATER COLOR  Oxygen-producing plankton are on the decline in the western Indian Ocean, new research suggests. The work tracked changes in water color across the ocean caused by the presence — or absence — of phytoplankton, such as that seen in this swirling 2013 phytoplankton bloom.

A rapid loss of phytoplankton threatens to turn the western Indian Ocean into an “ecological desert,” a new study warns. The research reveals that phytoplankton populations in the region fell an alarming 30 percent over the last 16 years.

A decline in ocean mixing due to warming surface waters is to blame for that phytoplankton plummet, researchers propose online January 19 in Geophysical Research Letters. The mixing of the ocean’s layers ferries phytoplankton nutrients from the ocean’s dark depths up into the sunlit layers that the mini plants inhabit.

The loss of these microbes, which form the foundation of the ocean food web, may undermine the region’s ecosystem, warns study coauthor Raghu Murtugudde, an oceanographer at the University of Maryland in College Park.

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