Phytoplanktons are tiny organisms that convert sunlight into chemical energy through photosynthesis.
The study further suggests that the blue regions would become bluer indicating less phytoplankton and life in those parts of the ocean whereas areas where the colour of the ocean is green, may get even deeper green as rising temperatures would facilitate more growth of different species of phytoplankton. As the colors change, so too does the sea of life beneath. An MIT study is reporting that by the end of the 21st century, 50 percent of the world's ocean, will be a different color.
"Sunlight will come into the ocean, and anything that's in the ocean will absorb it, like chlorophyll", says Stephanie Dutkiewicz, lead author of the study and a principal research scientist at MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
"The nice thing about this model is, we can use it as a laboratory, a place where we can experiment, to see how our planet is going to change", Dutkiewicz says. "If they were to magically change - or if we were to kill them off completely - there would be a lot of carbon coming out of the ocean and back into the atmosphere, and creating more problems that we have now". Patches of ocean with a lot of algae appear greenish, for instance, while areas with fewer phytoplankton appear a deeper blue.
The team's study is based on computer modelling of temperature-based phytoplankton numbers along with estimations of light wavelength absorption and is based on the assumption that global warming will increase by 3°C amid an ongoing rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
Water molecules can not soak up blue portions of the spectrum, reflecting it back out giving more desolate waters a deeper blue appearance. And in a world that warms by 3 degrees Celsius, it found that multiple changes to the colour of the oceans would occur.
They believe it will be 30-40 years before they can say for certain that climate change is having an impact on chlorophyll.
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Although optical sensors in satellites will be able to tell the difference, Dutkiewicz notes the naked eye will likely won't be able to pick up on the color changes.
Ocean colour varies from green to blue, depending on the type and concentration of phytoplankton, or algae, in any given area. "But you can see a significant, climate-related shift in some of these wavebands, in the signal being sent out to the satellites".
A United Nations-backed panel of scientists said a year ago that it will require "unprecedented" action over the coming decade for the world to limit warming and stave off the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Scientists have predicted that if this continues, ocean colours would change by the end of the century.
Though the change is unlikely to be a radical one, we could be about to see brighter blues and stronger greens as global warming pushes temperatures up.
Essentially, climate change will make the blues of the ocean bluer and the greens greener.
"Changes in community structure at the base of the marine food web may be the best marker of larger ecosystem shifts which could influence fisheries and carbon cycling", said Sonya Dyhrman, an expert on phytoplankton at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, who was not involved in the research released Monday.