A mix of phytoplankton and zooplankton seen under a microscope in a drop of ocean water.

Scientists believe that linking carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus’ ratios to phytoplankton nutrients balance can help them understand marine dynamics better.

Phytoplanktons — microorganisms living in the sea in billions of tonnes – play a gigantic role in earth’s environment. The little marine organisms are the main agents of the transfer of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean. Since phytoplanktons are connected to the earth’s environment on such a big scale, it is likely that the changes they undergo will cause a huge impact on the environment as well. For example, they can also cause mass deaths of marine life and create dead zones in the sea by producing biotoxins and depleting oxygen from the ocean.

Being regulators of most of the chemical activity and nutrients inside the ocean, scientists expect that global warming would affect their balance as their ratio is believed to be controlled by temperature. Now, ocean scientists have found that the subsurface ocean process controls the balance of nutrients in phytoplankton. The subsurface processes introduce a fixed ratio of nitrogen and phosphorus which affects the microorganisms. Since phytoplankton affect the atmosphere at large, the big changes in the earth’s environment can be linked to these subsurface processes as well. In other words, whatever is happening above the ocean may be getting controlled by the processes happening below.

Scientists believe that linking the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus ratios to phytoplankton nutrients balance can help scientists understand marine dynamics better and develop computer models that forecast ocean change.

However, scientists also said that the correlation in the ratios does not necessarily account for the wide and diverse chemistry happening inside the sea. The problem is that the fixed ratios are safe estimates that do not actually represent how biology works,” said lead author of the research Mike Lomas, in a statement. The research was published on July 14 in Nature Communications Earth and Environment.

Scientists say that the more complicated and realistic approaches to understanding ocean dynamics are not widely used yet.

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