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OSU Researcher Debunks Old Theory On Phytoplankton Growth

A new study out of Oregon State University says the current theory of why phytoplankton blooms in the ocean, is incorrect. Kristian Foden-Vencil reports on the possible implications.

Every spring, massive blooms of phytoplankton attract wildlife from all over the world. Scientists say the blooms are the ultimate basis for just about all sea life.

Since the 1950s, scientists have thought that the blooms are sparked during warm weather.

But OSU professor Michael Behrenfeld, says they now think the blooms actually start when freezing storms cool the water, causing phytoplankton to sink. That, he says, separates phytoplankton from the animals that prey on them.

Michael Behrenfeld: “And so what’s going on is that in the winter time you’re decoupling the predators and the prey. And that allows the prey, which is the phytoplankton, to start growing. And they continue to grow, and they grow and they grow, all the way from winter to spring. And so by the time Spring’s there, you have a high concentration of the phytoplankton.”

The new theory is important because climate change could lead to fewer freezing storms — and less phytoplankton for wildlife.


On the Web:

Phytoplankton study abstract

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