According to a recent MIT report, the biological pump is currently depicted in climate models with considerable uncertainty.
The “gold standard” calculation used to measure the pump’s power has a greater margin of uncertainty than previously assumed, and estimates of how much atmospheric pollution the ocean would pump down to varying depths could be off by 10 to 15 parts per million, according to the researchers.
(Photo : Francesco Ungaro )
(Photo : ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/Greg Torda)
Given that the planet already emits approximately 2.5 parts per million of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year, the team predicts that the latest ambiguity leads to a five-year error in climate target forecasts.
Algae and Carbon Absorption
(Photo : Francesco Ungaro )
Even in the most promising examples, most of the world’s coral reef populations – be in Australia, the Maldives, or the Caribbean – would have vanished or been in grave danger by the end of the century. Because of global warming, ocean temperatures increase beyond the tolerance of single-cell algae, which are corals’ strongest allies.
These algae provide corals with vital nutrients supplied by photosynthesis in exchange for living within coral tissue for protection. Since algae possess a number of pigments that give coral reefs their distinctive colors when they are removed, the corals become white, a phenomenon is known as coral bleaching. Despite the real challenge posed by global warming, corals in the Red Sea seem to be on track to maintain their vivid color.
“We also knew that corals in the Gulf of Aqaba, near the Red Sea’s northernmost tip, were especially immune to higher temperatures. However, Romain Savary, a postdoc at EPFL’s Laboratory for Biological Geochemistry, says, “We needed to research the complete molecular mechanism behind this resistance.”
Studying Corals and Heat Emissions
(Photo : SeaWorld Committed to Combating Coral Reef Disease in Florida)
To perform their study, the scientists exposed corals in the Gulf of Aqaba to various heat stresses, including those that are expected to occur in the coming decades.
The results show how these heat-resistant corals react at the most basic level – gene expression. This is the first time scientists have done a genetic study of coral samples on such a large scale.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Phytoplankton, microscopic organisms that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they rise, are the start of the marine processes that lead to the ocean’s biological pump. Phytoplankton collectively falls into the water column as “marine snow” when they die, taking carbon.
Microbes absorb the particles at different depths, converting the organic carbon and respiring it back into the deep ocean in an inorganic, mineral form, a mechanism known as remineralization.
Researchers collected underwater snow in the tropical Pacific in the 1980s at various places and depths. They developed a basic power law mathematical relationship – the Martin curve, after team member John Martin – to explain the intensity of the biological pump and how much carbon the ocean would remineralize and sequester at different depths based on these observations.
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