Carbon cycle: researchers use microbes to determine vital role of oceans

Researchers at Oregon State University are using a new approach to shed new light on the ocean’s vital role in the carbon cycle. The new approach tracks microbes that consume various forms of organic carbon produced by phytoplankton species.

Recent research is critical to predicting how much carbon will leave the global ocean for the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and how much will end up being buried in marine sediments.

The carbon cycle explained

(Photo: Pixabay from Pexels)

The carbon cycle, according to the National Ocean Service, is the natural way to recycle carbon atoms. Carbon is the foundation upon which all life forms on the planet are based and needed to form other complex molecules. It is also found in the planet’s atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Carbon helps regulate the temperature of the planet and allows life to continue as food, sustenance, and a major source of energy.

The carbon cycle, therefore, describes the natural process by which carbon atoms continually move from the planet’s atmosphere to the lithosphere and back again. Since the Earth’s atmosphere forms a closed environment, the amount of carbon atoms in the system does not change.

ALSO READ: Ocean microbes consume methane 50 times faster, regulating Earth’s temperature

Phytoplankton monitoring sheds light on the ocean’s role in carbon cycling

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled “Phytoplankton Exudates and Lysates Support Distinct Microbial Consortia with Specialized Metabolic and Ecophysiological Traits,” found that various species of microbes in the world’s oceans are peculiar but predictable in the food sources they prefer to eat, according to Brandon Kieft the first author and postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Phytoplankton are microscopic plant organisms that form the basis of food chains in the world’s oceans. They are a key component of critical biological carbon pumps. Most float aimlessly in the upper parts of the ocean, where they are easily accessible by sunlight.

These microscopic plants make their food and have a huge effect on the amount of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere by sucking the molecules during photosynthesis. Phytoplankton has become a natural sink, the primary means of removing CO2, the most abundant greenhouse gas, from the planet’s atmosphere. Since the start of the industrial age, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by up to 40%, greatly contributing to continued global warming.

Researchers say they are analyzing heterotrophic microbes or consumers of organic matter. Both groups are microbes that mainly consume organic carbon as a food source, and the other fixes their organic carbon.

Kief explains that recent findings have vital implications for better understanding how marine microbes such as phytoplankton and photosynthetic algae work in unison to impact the global carbon cycle and how the ocean food web may respond to changes. environmental factors, helping researchers predict the amount of carbon. return to the planet’s atmosphere and the amount that will inevitably be buried in marine sediments for years to come.

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