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Tiny phytoplankton have big influence on climate change

As nations across the globe negotiate how to reduce their contributions to climate change, researchers at Penn are investigating just how the coming changes will impact the planet. What’s clear is that the effect extends beyond simple warming. Indeed, the very physics and chemistry of the oceans are also shifting, and are forecast to change even more in the coming decades.

These changes have implications for, among other things, the single-celled organisms that comprise the base of the ocean’s food web and are responsible for half of the world’s photosynthetic activity: phytoplankton. Not only are phytoplankton sensitive to changes in climate, they also contribute to those changes, as they can remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it deep in the ocean when they die.

Irina Marinov, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth & Environmental Science in the School of Arts & Sciences, and her lab members have published two studies this fall that concern themselves with what climate models have to say about how phytoplankton and ocean ecosystems will respond to the profound changes the Earth is undergoing.

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Department of Earth and Environmental Science / University of Pennsylvania, 251 Hayden Hall, 240 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316