The loss of phytoplankton in the earth’s oceans may end up destroying all animals on the earth, including us, possibly as soon as this century or the next.
The sea is full of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that fill the sea. They are too small to see with the naked eye but they are half of all organic matter on earth. They create energy for themselves using photosynthesis and one of the by-products of photosynthesis is oxygen. Phytoplankton actually supply 2/3 of the earth’s oxygen. In short, phytoplankton are absolutely essential for all oxygen breathing animals that live on the earth.
Unfortunately the warming of our oceans is killing these tiny organisms. An article in Nature, one of the premier journals of science, says that “since 1950 phytoplankton populations worldwide may have decreased by up to 40 percent, correlating to rising sea-surface temperatures. The loss of phytoplankton “would likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans.”
And actually it is even scarier than this. As phytoplankton die and the oxygen generated by them falls lower and lower, the overall oxygen levels in the world also fall, pretty minutely at first but gradually dropping lower and lower. It doesn’t take much of a drop in ambient oxygen to begin effecting the minds of mammals. Scientists are acutely worried about decreases in brain function as levels of oxygen drop in this century.
It’s hard to believe that something as vital and as necessary to life and as beautiful as our oceans is now dying. Unfortunately this is true. Our oceans still look OK, but they are not OK. Reefs all over over the world are already dead or dying. Many ocean creatures are becoming extinct. And most vitally, the phytoplankton are desperately endangered.
Below are some books and articles that discuss these problems in detail:
Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out, by Bill McKibben
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert