Importance of Natural Resources

What ocean microbes reveal about the changing climate | Angelicque White

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Krystian Aparta I’m a biological oceanographer. I have the absolute privilege
of studying microbial lives in the Pacific Ocean. So we’ll talk about microbes in a minute, but I first want to give you
a sense of place, a sense of scale. The Pacific Ocean is our largest,
deepest ocean basin. It covers 60 million square miles. If you took all the continents
and you put them together in a little Pangaea 2.0, they’d fit snug inside the Pacific,
with room to spare. It’s a massive ecosystem, from the blues of the open ocean
to the green of the continental margins. In this place, I get to study the base of the food web: plankton. Now, in my research, and really in the field
of microbial oceanography as a whole, there’s a theme that has emerged, and that theme is “change.” These microbial ecosystems
are changing in real and measurable ways, and it is not that hard to see it. Oceans cover 70 percent of our planet, so ocean change is planetary change, and it all starts with microbes. Now, I have two vignettes
to share with you, and these are meant to be
love stories to microbes. But I’ll be honest
that there’s an aspect of it that’s just a total bummer, and, beware, focus on the love. Right? That’s where I’m coming from. So the first thing to know is that the forests
of the sea are microbial. And what I mean by that
is that, by and large, plants in the open ocean are microscopic, and they are much more abundant
than we realize. So I’m going to show you
some mug shots of these organisms that I’ve collected over the years. These are the lowest rungs
of the ocean food web. These are tiny plants and animals that come in a variety of shapes
and sizes and colors and metabolisms. There are hundreds of thousands
in a single milliliter of seawater. You are definitely swimming with them
when you’re in the ocean. They produce oxygen, they consume CO2, and they form the base of the food web on which every other form
of ocean life is reliant. Now, I’ve spent about 500 days
of my scientific life at sea, and a lot more in front
of a computer or in the lab, so I feel compelled to tell you
some of their stories. Let’s start in the Pacific Northwest. This place is green. It is beautiful. These are blooms of phytoplankton
that you can see from space along the West Coast of the United States. It’s an incredibly productive ecosystem. This is where you go to salmon fish,
halibut fish, whale watch. It’s a beautiful part of our country. And here, for 10 years,
among other things, I studied the uplifting topic
of harmful algal blooms. These are blooms
of toxin-producing phytoplankton that can contaminate food webs
and accumulate in shellfish and fish that are harvested for human consumption. We were trying to understand
why they bloom, where they bloom, when they bloom, so we could manage these harvests and protect human health. Now, the problem
is the ocean’s a moving target and, much like some people in our lives,
toxicity varies among the plankton. (Laughter) Alright? So, to get around these challenges, we combined satellite remote sensing with drones and gliders, regular sampling of the surf zone and a lot of time at sea in small boats off the Oregon coast. And I don’t know if many of you
have had the opportunity to do that, but it is not easy. [Even oceanographers get seasick] Here’s some poor students. (Laughter) I’ve hidden their faces
to protect their identities. (Laughter) This is a challenging place. So this is hard-won data
I’m about to talk about, OK? (Laughter) So by combining all of our data
with our collaborators, we had 20-year time series
of toxins and phytoplankton cell counts. And that allowed us to understand
the patterns of these blooms and to build models to predict them. And what we found was that the risk of harmful algal blooms
was tightly linked to aspects of climate. Now when I say “climate,”
I don’t mean weather day-to-day, I mean long-term changes. These oscillations
that you may have heard of — the Pacific Decadal
Oscillation, El Niño — they usually bring warm,
dry winters to this region, but they also reduce the strength
of the California Current, which runs from the north to the south
along the Pacific Northwest, and they warm the coastal ocean. These are the reds
you’re seeing in this plot, warm anomalies, strong positive indices of the PDO. And when we have
these changes in circulation and changes in temperature, the risk of harmful
algal blooms is increased, but also salmon recruitment has decreased, and we see intrusions
of invasive species like green crab. So these are ecological
and economic impacts of climate. Now, if our models are right, the frequency and severity of these events
are only going to get worse, right along with these warm anomalies. And, to illustrate that, 2014 was probably one of the worst
harmful algal blooms in Oregon history. It was also the hottest year
in the modern climate record at that time, that is until 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. In fact, the five hottest years
in the modern climate record have been the last five. That bodes really well
for harmful algal blooms and poorly for ecosystem health. Now, you may not care about shellfish, but these changes impact
economically important fisheries, like crab and salmon, and they can impact the health
of marine mammals like whales. And that might matter a little bit more. That might resonate. So, there’s your doomsday tale
for the margins of the Pacific. Actually, these are really
resilient ecosystems. They can absolutely bounce back
if we give them a chance. The point is not to ignore
the changes that we’re seeing, which brings me to my second vignette. I have since moved to the most remote
island chain on our planet, the Hawaiian Islands, where I’m the new lead of a program
called the Hawaiian Ocean Time-series. And this is a program that for 31 years has made this monthly pilgrimage
to a spot called Station ALOHA. It’s in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in the center of this vast,
swirling system of currents that we call the North Pacific
Subtropical Gyre. It’s our largest ocean ecosystem. It’s four times the size
of the Amazon rain forest. It is warm, in a good way. It is blue water, it’s absolutely the type of place
you want to dive in and swim. You cannot do that off of research boats, because, you know, sharks. Google it. (Laughter) This is a beautiful place. And here, since October of 1988, generations of researchers
have made these monthly pilgrimages. We study the biology, the chemistry,
the physics of the open ocean. We’ve measured the temperature
from the surface to the seafloor. We’ve tracked the currents,
traced the waves. People have discovered new organisms here. People have created vast genomic libraries that have revolutionized what we think about the diversity
of marine microorganisms. It’s not just a place of discovery, but the important part about time series are that they provide us
a sense of history, a sense of context. And in 30 years of data, it’s allowed us to separate
the seasonal change and see the emergence
of humanity’s fingerprints on the natural world. There’s another iconic
time series in Hawaii, and that is the Keeling Curve. I hope you have all seen this. This time series has documented
the rapid increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It’s not just the number,
it’s the rate of increase. The rate of carbon dioxide
increase in our atmosphere is unprecedented for our planet. And that has consequences for our oceans. In fact, oceans absorb about 90 percent
of the heat that’s generated by greenhouse gas emissions and about 40 percent
of the carbon dioxide. And we have been able
to measure that at Station ALOHA. Each one of these dots is a cruise. It represents people’s lives over 30 years
trying to make these measurements, and it took 30 years
to be able to see this. CO2 rises in the atmosphere, CO2 rises in the ocean. That’s the red line. A consequence of that is a fundamental change
in the chemistry of seawater, a decline in pH — pH is on a log scale, here’s your blue line. So we’ve seen a 30 percent decline
in pH in the surface ocean in this time series. Now that has impacts for organisms
that need to feed, build shells, that changes growth rates,
metabolic interactions, and it doesn’t just impact plankton — it impacts ecosystems
as large as coral reefs. Now one of the things we’ve been able
to show in this time series is this is just skimming the surface. Increases in CO2 and a decline in pH are measured over the top 500 meters
of the water column. I really find that to be profound. This is genuinely one of the most
remote places on our planet, and we’ve impacted the top 500 meters
of the water column. Now, these two things — harmful algal blooms,
ocean acidification — that’s not all, of course. You’ve heard of the rest: sea-level rise, eutrophication,
melting of the polar ice caps, expansion of oxygen minimum zones,
pollution, loss of biodiversity, overfishing. It’s hard for me to get a grad student — you can see this pitch
is a difficult one, right? (Laughter) (Sighs) Again, I think these systems,
these microbial ecosystems, are immensely resilient. We just cannot go too far down this path. I personally believe that sustained
observation of our oceans and our planet is the moral imperative
for our generation of scientists. We are bearing witness to the changes that are being inflicted
upon our natural communities, and by doing so, it provides us the opportunity
to adapt and enact global change, if we’re willing. So the solutions to these problems
are multitiered. It involves a portfolio of solutions, local change, but all the way up to voting for people
who will protect our environment on a global scale. (Applause) Let’s bring it back to the love. (Laughter) Microbes matter. These organisms are small, abundant, ancient, and they are critical to sustaining
our population and our planet. Yet we are on track to double
our carbon dioxide emissions in the next 50 years, so the analogy that I use for that is like we are eating
like we’re still in our 20s, assuming there will be no consequences — but I’m a woman in her 40s, I know there are consequences
for my fuel consumption. Right? (Laughter) These oceans are very much alive. These ecosystems have not collapsed. Well, except for the Arctic,
we can talk about that. (Laughter) But the sustained observations
that I’ve shared with you today, the work of generations of scientists, are pointing us to take
better care of our oceans and to nurture the microbes
that sustain us. And on that note, I want to end with a quote
from one of my heroes, Jane Lubchenco. And this slide is appropriate. Jane has said that the oceans
are not too big to fail, nor are they too big to fix, but the oceans are too big to ignore. Thank you. (Applause)

Reader Comments

  1. THE CLIMATE CHANGES EVERY FEW DECADES PEOPLE!!!!! DO THE RESEARCH!!!!! IT’S DOCUMENTED, HISTORICALLY/SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN FACT!!!!! The ICE on the POLAR CAPS has INCREASED in the last decade!!!! Which means “GLOBAL WARMING” is a SCAM orchestrated by the snowflake leftist extremists who use FEAR to gain ABSOLUTE CONTROL….. Worry about something REAL everyone!!!! Holy CRAP!!!!!

  2. Quote of the day

    Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all facts

  3. Now, why do you think it is that audiences clap/applaud at the beginning of performances? Because they have already decided that they are going to be "good". No one needs to earn applaud anymore as even mediocrity gets applauded. A qualitative indicator of a species in serious decline.

  4. The microbes must have been telling the experts lies about the coming ice age they were speaking of not so long ago, and eggs are good this week but next week they might be bad again. If the climate is heating up then the gulf and oceans should be heating up and as the experts said in 2004 ,one degree rise causes more hurricanes, so yea we should be slammed all summer long well into the fall months with hurricanes constantly. The experts are paid mouth pieces for the elite and independent non biased experts are suicided with two to the back of the head or a car wreck maybe they are found dead in a drainage ditch in Atlanta CDC guy style. My point is question everything "they" want you to think. And allege blooms are often impacted by the amount of chemical saturated run off from treated farm land and chemical treated lawns. The release of fresh water that's contaminated into the gulf no sea.. hey maybe she will talk about how the pollution from Fukushima has been killing off the tide pools globally,pfft.

  5. Thanks for the great info and speech Angelique..if nothing else people need to focus on what's going on with our planet and not do anymore harm to it. This is just more research that we need to do something..after we only have 1 home..the planet earth..

  6. we humans are one part of the cause , but I think there is something else also causing this changes , maybe as the galaxy spins and we change locations , or maybe as the earth orbit the sun , or the earth tilted more than it should I dont know , all I know something is not right

  7. Many a times facts are needed to convince our logical beings. Destruction is obvious but ignoring that builds the ignorance.

  8. Usually scientists are not that good on communicating but White is a ⭐
    👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏 ✔

  9. Have you included the effects of our Sun's cycles on our ecosystems? No? See SpaceWeatherNews and suspiciousobservers on youtube! 💖😎

  10. As a human race, we really need to stop interfering with organisms and other life forms. We're inhibiting the ability for evolution to take charge and to adapt to changes in living conditions. We just need to let evolution do what evolution does best, and leave life other than our own to fend for itself. Because over time, it will adapt, and it will be able to thrive, but not if we're stopping its ability to adapt in the first place.

  11. More bullshit trying to convince the 'plankton' (her description not mine) that anthrolopological CO2 production is driving global warming. Even though there is absolutely no peer reviewed evidence to back it up. In fact exactly the opposite. CO2 is the result of warming not the cause. We are actually going into a mini ice age. The ice caps are not melting, sea levels are not rising and Polar Bears are not heading for extinction either. Anyone who has bought into this religious nonsense has been completely brainwashed just like this odious repeater who thought it was funny to refer to the masses as 'toxic plankton'. Presumably the 'toxic' ones are those of us who can think for ourselves and don't just 'believe'. Global warming, Climate Change, or what they are calling it now Climate Emergency is a tax and control system 'believers' are subjecting not only themselves too but also non believers as well. We are stupidly allowing morons like this halfwit lead us into the hive mind where everyone is on board and gladly calling for their own enslavement. It's a religious belief system complete with a priest class (the 97%) and a apocalyptic end if we fail to comply.

  12. The rate of CO2 increase is not unprecedented. The ice core data shows regular intervals of atmospheric CO2 spikes, which is a lagging indicator of temperature, not a leading indicator.

  13. I will go north, I will rise up above the plans and not fall into the motives of the congregations of the north, I will follow my Christ within, and follow the guidance of the vibration of Orion! The vibes and messages the stars give me are my vehicle out of here! Pacific Stargate..NB,Q, O,M,S,ABC

  14. Really well spoken! You can see how knowledgeable and passionate she is about the topic! She seemed almost choked up by the ending quote. I really admire her passion!

  15. Wow, a ocean scientist that makes sense … or at least speaks on a level the average intelligent person can understand, without trying to impress us with research jargon. Plus, she deserves credit for reporting some positives rather than focusing on the typical doom and gloom glorified in the media..

  16. Climate has been changing since the birth of the earth.. and will continue to no matter how uch hybris humans get. There is nothing out of the ordinary. The climate goes in cycles back and forth. Nothing indicates the current trajectory will even continue.

  17. The top 1 km of oceans have an approximate mass of 3.6 X 10 to the power 17 tons, All the carbon in the atmosphere is about 3 X 10 to the power 12 tons. If all the CO2 were to dissolve into the oceans, their impact on ocean ph would be undetectable. Perhaps whatever decrease in ocean ph is caused by other factors. Ocean volcanoes?

  18. Lets all blame the 👍🏻 GreatBig USA 🇺🇸. & mean old Trump its all his problem when we are one of the few countries trying too do anything about man made pollution , hows China 🇨🇳 & 🇮🇳 India doing.

  19. They say that the increase in CO2 will prevent the next glacial period when within 100 years the temp could drop by 8 deg C. Was probably going to happen anytime within next 1000, years and last 50,000 or more.. Burn more fossil fuels.

  20. WHAT? Voting for people who will protect the earth's environment on a global scale? SO: Who is running for King of the World these days? The Chinese maybe?

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