Research

Climate change clues from ancient marine algae

February 14, 2013
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Fossil (left) and modern (right) coccolithophore cells of species Toweius pertusus and Coccolithus pelagicus

Fossil (left) and modern (right) coccolithophore cells of species Toweius pertusus and Coccolithus pelagicus. Courtesy of Paul Bown, UCLls

Anew study, involving researchers from the University of Southampton, has found that microscopic ocean algae called coccolithophores are providing clues about the impact of climate change both now and many millions of years ago.
 The study found that their response to environmental change varies between species, in terms of how quickly they grow.

Coccolithophores, a type of plankton, are not only widespread in the modern ocean but they are also prolific in the fossil record because their tiny calcium carbonate shells are preserved on the seafloor after death – the vast chalk cliffs of Dover, for example, are almost entirely made of fossilised coccolithophores.

The fate of coccolithophores under changing environmental conditions is of interest because of their important role in the marine ecosystem and carbon cycle. Due to their calcite shells, these organisms are potentially sensitive to ocean acidification, which occurs when rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed by the ocean, increasing its acidity.

There are many different species of coccolithophore and in an article published this month in Nature Geoscience scientists reported that these algae responded in different ways to a rapid climate warming event that occurred 56 million years ago, the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

The study, involving researchers from the University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre and University College London, found that the species Toweius pertusus continued to reproduce relatively quickly despite rapidly changing environmental conditions. This would have provided a competitive advantage and is perhaps why closely-related modern-day species considered to be its descendants, (such as Emiliana huxleyi) still thrive today.

In contrast, the species Coccolithus pelagicus grew more slowly during the period of greatest warmth and this inability to maintain high growth rates may explain why its descendants are less abundant and less widespread in the modern ocean. “This work provides us with a whole new way of looking at living and fossil coccolithophores,” says lead author Dr. Samantha Gibbs, Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Southampton.

By comparing immaculately preserved and complete fossil cells with modern coccolithophore cells, the researchers could interpret how different species responded to the sudden increase in environmental change at the PETM, when atmospheric CO2 levels increased rapidly and the oceans became more acidic.

Lead author on the research, Dr. Samantha Gibbs, Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Southampton

Lead author on the research, Dr. Samantha Gibbs, Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Southampton

“We use knowledge of how coccolithophores build their calcite skeletons in the modern ocean to interpret how climate change 56 million years ago affected the growth of these microscopic plankton,” adds co-author Dr. Alex Poulton, a Research Fellow at the National Oceanography Centre. “This is a significant step forward and allows us to view fossils as cells rather than dead ‘rocks.’ Through this we can begin to understand the environmental controls on oceanic calcification, as well as the potential effects of climate change and ocean acidification.”

The study was primarily supported by the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, which is jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

—courtesy University of Southampton

More Like This…

HOME Algae Industry Jobs

Copyright ©2010-2013 AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com. All rights reserved. Permission required to reprint this article in its entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact editorial@algaeindustrymagazine.com. A.I.M. accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

From The A.I.M. Archives

— Refresh Page for More Choices
Four years after the first optimistic calculations, the experimental cultivation of algae at Wageningen University in the Netherlands appears to be meeting expectations. ...
Kazuaki Nagata reports from Japan that while the Fukushima nuclear disaster has prompted vigorous discussion about alternative energy in Japan, there is a lack of a paral...
Gilbert, AZ-based Heliae has announced a partnership with Sincere Corporation, a Japanese waste management and recycling company, to form a joint venture and develop a co...
Starting in the early 70s, agencies in the former USSR invested more than 20,000 person-years of research and development to produce Bio-Algae Concentrates (BAC) that hel...
Steven Mufson reports for the Washington Post that Algenol Biofuels estimates hackers have attempted to break into its computers 39 million times in four months this year...
Perth, Western Australia-based Algae.Tec Limited has announced that the Reliance Group has converted the first tranche of options following the positive progress achieved...
Matthew Carr was recently named executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), the leading trade association for the algae industry. His presence will soon b...
Channelnewsasia.com reports on three young Spaniards who harvest seaweed, a culinary delicacy, as a way for them to stay out of Spain’s troubled financial waters. 35-year...
Phys.Org reports that scientists Jolanda Verspagen and Jef Huisman of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands have concluded that rising CO2 concentrations in the at...
Bookending the upcoming Algae Biomass Summit, Sept. 29-Oct.2 in San Diego, will be industry tours to give attendees a first-hand look at the latest progress in technical ...
Expanding from its initial work in algal biofuels, General Atomic’s (GA’s) Advanced Biological Processes team has focused on the rising need for food globally, specifical...
Researchers at the Paul Scherer Institute (PSI) in Wädenswil, Switzerland, have succeeded in producing energy-rich gas from microalgae, and in doing so have demonstrated ...
SCHOTT AG, of Mitterteich, Germany, and Algatechnologies Ltd. (Algatech), based at Israel’s Kibbutz Ketura, have signed an R&D agreement to strengthen their partnersh...
With their new CO₂ processing-platform called AstaCos, AlgaeBiotech can produce waxy particles of only 50-100 µm in size with a loading of 25% astaxanthin oleoresin. The ...
Algix, parent company of Solaplast, will be inaugurating their algae-to-plastic facility in Meridian, Mississippi, on November 14, 2014. Solaplast's facility will be focu...
Solazyme, Inc. and Versalis, the chemical subsidiary of Eni S.p.A., one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, today announced a partnership to expand the commerci...
Iran-based Qeshm Microalgae Biorefinery Co. (QMAB) has launched a biofuel being marketed as BAYA®, produced from a species of Nannochloropsis (strain 6016) isolated from ...
Phys.org reports that, in collaboration with the Berlin, Germany LED manufacturer FutureLED, scientists at the Technische Universität München have developed a unique comb...