JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Phytoplankton suck CO2 out of sky, dump to ocean floor

A new nature paper shows how little we know about the oceans and the whole carbon cycle. A paper (with 64 names!) suggests that phytoplankton might be sucking out extra CO2 from the sky and dumping it in Davy Jones’ Locker at the bottom of the deep blue sea.

Who needs a global carbon  market? Apparently plankton are doing it for free.  And all those windmills just got a bit more pointless.

Lots of living things absorb carbon, but phytoplankton seem to be more important than the others. The best predictors of sinking carbon were viruses of certain cyanobacteria. Few of the “thousands of phytoplankton species have been studied in this way”.

Jo

PS: This fits with Tom Quirks paper on the 9Gt massive carbon bubble of 1990 and previous research that shows plankton sucks up twice as much carbon as we thought it did. We’re going to be hearing more about phytoplankton.

The ocean’s power to rein in carbon and protect the environment is vast but not well-understood.

But now, an international team of scientists has begun to illuminate how the ocean plucks carbon from the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming, and shuttles [...]

The mystery of a massive 9Gt of CO2 that came and went — could it be phytoplankton?

There is a mystery peak in global CO2 levels in 1990. For some reason from 1989 suddenly global carbon levels jumped higher than they normal would and by 9,000 million tonnes (that’s equivalent to 2,500 mT of carbon)*. It’s only a little blip in an upward line, but as a deviation from the long steady norm, it’s a dramatic change (see the second graph below). Within a few years the excess disappeared and the reasonably straight line increase in CO2 resumed. The sudden jump is equivalent to nearly half of our total annual human fossil fuel emissions. Nothing about this peak fits with the timing of human induced fossil fuel emissions. These were not big years in our output (indeed it coincides with the collapse of the soviet block when inefficient Russian industry was shut down) .

The mystery of the massive CO2 bubble exposes how little we know about why CO2 levels rise and fall, and whether human emissions make much difference. The world is spending $4 billion dollars a day trying to change this global CO2 level of 0.04% (400ppm) but apparently other large forces are at work pushing up CO2, and then absorbing [...]

Ocean plankton suck up twice the carbon we thought they did

Hyperia | Credit Wikimedia

Despite the fuss about CO2 emissions, on a global scale no one is quite sure where a lot of it ends up. Those mystery “sinks” draw in a large proportion of CO2. Here’s a big sink that just got twice as big.

Science Daily  Mar. 17, 2013 — Models of carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans need to be revised, according to new work by UC Irvine and other scientists published online Sunday in Nature Geoscience. Trillions of plankton near the surface of warm waters are far more carbon-rich than has long been thought, they found. Global marine temperature fluctuations could mean that tiny Prochlorococcus and other microbes digest double the carbon previously calculated.

The trouble started when someone made an assumption.

[...]