Oceanic Cyanobacteria in the Modern Global CO2 Cycle

There appears to be a very interesting fine structure to great Southern Ocean (SO) atmospheric CO2 levels if one calculates residuals relative to the ‘official’ NOAA global average. This also applies to individual Northern Hemisphere (NH) and Southern Hemisphere (SH) monitoring stations such as Mauna Loa (MLO) and Easter Island (EIC) respectively, sited in the Northeastern and Southwestern Pacific Gyres.

The purpose behind calculating % residuals relative to the (smoothly rising) global average is that this maximizes factoring out the net effects of (temporal) trends in anthropogenic emissions or oceanic up welling and down welling across the planet. The following graph illustrates this point. The graph below was obtained by analysing all NOAA monthly near surface CO2 data from 1982 to 2007 to compute the annual average for all global stations and then computing annual residuals relative to that global average for:

(a) the Mauna Loa (MLO) station only;
(b) the Easter Island (EIC) station only; and
(c) the (unweighted) pooled average of all SO stations from below 30 S to the South Pole.

Please note that residuals above the x = 0 axis are negative (meaning SO or EIC total CO2 levels are below the global mean) and residuals below the x = 0 axis are positive (meaning MLO total CO2 levels are above the global mean). Note also that the residuals of the annual average CO2 at all SO stations are shown with appropriate one standard deviation error bars (on the mean for all stations). These have reduced in magnitude over the years as the number of SO CO2 monitoring stations has risen from only 3 in 1982 to a contemporary maximum of 9 stations. Only data was used where a full (monthly) annual record was accredited by NOAA so that at stations where a full 12 month record was sometimes not available e.g. due to equipment problems, any estimations of monthly CO2 levels obtained by extrapolation could be totally avoided. In other words, this graph contains no addition ‘data massaging’ whatsoever.

In this graph we may clearly see that over the period 1982 – 2007 CO2 levels at MLO were always greater than the global average. For MLO 1998 was an obvious peak in exceedance of the global CO2 average but despite the fading of the large 1998 El Nino, at least until 2007 the trend for MLO seemed to be for an increasing margin above the global average.

In this graph we may also clearly see that over the period 1982 – 2007 CO2 levels over the SO were always lower than the global average. For the SO 1998 was not a special year with respect to the negative residual for SO CO2 level below the global average.

However, it can be clearly seen that over the period 1982 – 2007 the (negative) residual of CO2 levels over the SO relative to the global mean has trended towards greater values. In other words over 1982 – 2007 CO2 levels over the entire SO have slowly lagged increasingly below the (rising) global average CO2, falling from about 0.35% below the global average to about 0.55% in recent years – a trend of about 0.1%/decade against the (always rising) global average CO2 level.

Additionally, it can also be seen that the CO2 residual below the global average over the SO has been approaching the long term average residual at the Easter Island Station (EIC), which has always typically lagged about 0.65% below the global average CO2 level since records commenced in 1994.

image003

Following my identification of the above residual and trends in residuals about global CO2 levels I embarked on a spare time investigation to try to understand what may be going on with respect to CO2 dynamics in the SO. My investigations focussed on looking at the important role of cyanobacteria (formerly known as blue-green algae) in the oceans.

Cyanobacteria are very important organisms in the global biosphere because they comprise about 48% of the global living biomass, live in the top 50 m or so of the oceans and are photosynthetic. They absorb carbon in the form of dissolved CO2 and bicarbonate from seawater and respire (emit) oxygen. They are of course the micro-organisms which more or less gave us our 21% oxygen atmosphere following their evolution about 3 Gy ago. After land plants (which evolved from cyanobacteria and no make up about 52% of the worlds living biomass) they are the most important photo-synthesizers on the plant. After simple water temperature effects on CO2 solubility the biotic cycle of uptake of CO2 by cyanobacteria is the next most important mechanism why may affect atmospheric CO2 levels over the oceans.

The following text attempts to summarize the outcomes of my investigations thus far. It is not intended to be a definitive or dogmatic statement but is submitted simply to try to raise interest in the very important issue of global cyanobacterial productivity and its relationship to the global carbon cycle and make a few speculative comments that readers may wish to comment-on and take further.

Below is a two component graph showing average monthly daytime Chlorophyll a (black) over all oceans over the last ten and half years and average monthly daytime sea surface temperatures (SSTs; in green) over the last five and half years for the latitude band 0 (Equator) to 30 N (i.e. Sub-Equatorial NH). Chlorophyll a is a (satellite sea surface colour-sensed) measure of cyanobacterial density ‘productivity’) at the sea surface.

Note the pronounced 1998 El Nino sea surface temperature (SST) effect on cyanobacterial productivity. Furthermore, please especially note the presence of a bimodal population of cyanobacteria in each annual cycle i.e. a ‘Consortium S’ which blooms more-or-less in summer and a ‘Consortium W’ which blooms more-or-less in winter. Note also the peaks and troughs in annual SSTs.

Note also the increased strength of the winter 2006 and winter 2008 Consortium W blooms.

image004

Now here below is the equivalent graph for the Equatorial oceanic latitude band along the Equator i.e. 15 N – 15 S.

Note again the presence of a bimodal pattern of populations of cyanobacteria in each annual cycle i.e. a ‘Consortium S’ which blooms in summer and a much weaker ‘Consortium W’ which blooms in winter.

image006

Similarly, here below is the equivalent graph for the Sub-Equatorial SH latitude band just below the Equator i.e. 0 – 30 S. Note the almost complete absence of a 1998 El Nino SST effect.

Note also the almost complete absence of a bimodal pattern of population of cyanobacteria in each annual cycle i.e. Consortium W dominates completely – unlike the situation with the Sub-Equatorial NH oceans.

image008

Now here below is the equivalent plot for the mid-NH latitudes 30 N – 60 N. Note again the almost complete absence of a 1998 El Nino SST effect. Note well the now marked and very consistent presence of ‘Consortium S’ and a shift of the (no stronger) ‘Consortium W’ to warmer waters later in each year, relative to more equatorial waters. Note also how the weaker ‘Consortium S’ has however increased in activity from a peak Chlorophyll a level of about 0.6 mg/m3 in 1997 to approx. 0.7 mg/m3 in 2006 -7.

image010

The final graph shows the equivalent SH plot for the mid-latitudes of 30 S – 60 S. Note the weak but still-evident 1998 El Nino SST effect. However, most importantly, note the complete absence of ‘Consortium S’ unlike the equivalent oceanic band of the NH (30 N – 60N).

There is also a shift of the (now solitary) ‘Consortium W’ to warmer waters later in each year (relative to more equatorial waters).

image012

These graphs are sufficient to demonstrate that the behaviour of two vast crops of oceanic cyanobacteria which I have completely arbitrarily labelled ‘Consortium S’ and ‘Consortium W’ depending upon in which part of the year they approximately bloom, in the NH Equatorial and Mid-Latitude oceans, is markedly different to the SO below 30 S (which has only a ‘Consortium W’ type population).

As far as I know this observation does not appear anywhere in the modern scientific literature on the ocean.

Why there should be two distinct NH oceanic cyanobacterial consortia producing two annual phases of blooming in the NH oceans (i.e. blooming over two fairly distinct water temperature ranges) is an interesting and as yet unresolved question.

Is it a modern adaptation to the hemisphere where most anthropogenic CO2 has been increasingly generated over the last 200 or so years?

Or is it (say) a past-evolved consequence of the timing of (say) iron and silica export in dusts (noting these are limiting nutrients for cyanobacterial growth) from the (proportionately larger) NH continents e.g. Sahara, Gobi etc?

It has long been known that cyanobacterial productivity tends to be higher in NH oceans because of the higher iron and nitrogen nutrient levels in those ocean by comparison with SH oceans. This is a consequence of the greater proportion of land in the NH and the consequential observed higher nutrient levels in the surface layers of NH oceans.

My personal inclination is to infer that NH mixed populations of oceanic cyanobacteria might well be adapting already to the more rapidly increasing NH atmospheric CO2 levels, the higher SSTs there and probably the larger anthropogenic fixed nitrogen pollution of the NH by adaptation to establish a stronger ‘Consortium S’ population designed to consume those elevated CO2 and fixed nitrogen nutrient levels.

Yet despite the lack of evidence for two annual consortia in the great SO increasing negative deviations of CO2 levels over the great Southern Ocean from the global mean CO2 level (the ‘residuals’ – refer my first graph above) still strongly suggest that this ‘CO2 fertilization effect’ is occurring in the SH too.

Possibly we simply can’t discern it in the Northern Hemisphere from looking just at annual CO2 residuals relative to the global mean because the Northern Hemisphere is where the CO2 flux to the atmospheric (both through land and sea-based aerobic decay of natural organic matter and through anthropogenic emissions) is much greater.

Are these data a modern example of evolution in action? They certainly appear to indicate evolution of the vast crop of oceanic cyanobacteria in the direction of increasing adaptation-to and attenuation-of elevated atmospheric CO2 (from whatever source) and increasing SSTs (regardless of their cause).

There is therefore clear evidence that, on a regional basis the modern capacity of the oceans for CO2 removal is both regionally variable and in some regions is likely increasing.

In my view, this is a result of the effects on cyanobacterial primary productivity of increasing CO2 fertilization, perhaps delayed fertilization from iron and silicon fallout/washout from volcanos like Pinatubo, Chaiten etc, but perhaps most importantly, the massive and rapidly increasing input to the coastal shelves of anthropogenic fixed nitrogen.

It is not often appreciated that the total export of fixed forms of nitrogen into coastal shelf waters by mankind is massive and approximately equal to the sum of all natural exports.

In fact the anthropogenic fraction of total nitrogen emitted from the land to the oceans and the atmosphere is much greater than for the anthropogenic fraction of total carbon emitted from the land to the oceans and the atmosphere. Somehow, in the midst of all the hysteria about anthropogenic carbon emissions we rarely get to consider this extremely significant fact.

Cyanobacterial primary productivity has a negative feedback effect on SST which in turn increases CO2 solubility etc.

This arises through:
• increased sea surface reflectivity (albedo) induced by the blooming of biogenic calcite-secreting cyanobacteria (‘coccolithophores’);
• increased sea surface reflectivity reduced sea surface evaporation rates caused by mono- and multi-layers of lipids formed on the sea surface during cyanobacterial blooming (via zooplankton predation and the action of cyanobacteriophages); and
• enhanced cloudiness and increased reflectivity of low level clouds by cyanobacteria-emitted dimethylsulfide (DMS) and isoprene-based aerosol Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN).

Finally, in the Australian context, I note (a little mischievously) that the reduced SSTs which Cai and Cowan (2006), recently noted for the seas to the north of Australia might be induced by increasing cyanobacterial primary productivity in the coastal shelf zones of South East Asia and the Indonesian archipelago, itself driven by the known increasing anthropogenic nutrient pollution of those shallow seas.

If that were the case then this effect could well be a subtle but key driver of the increasing dryness of the Murray Darling Basin.

  • http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/ Bob Tisdale

    Steven: You wrote, “the (unweighted) pooled average of all SO stations from below 30 S to the South Pole.” But earlier you defined SO as Southern Ocean and SH as Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, shouldn’t the above quote read, the (unweighted) pooled average of all SH (not SO) stations from below 30 S to the South Pole?

    I haven’t checked to see if the problem reoccurs throughout the post or in the graphs.

    Regards

    • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

      Hi Bob

      Yes you are correct. I have been bit sloppy with my language there. The above quote should read “…the (unweighted) pooled average of all SH stations from below 30 S to the South Pole?”

      However, I have adopted the definition of the (greater) SO as all that part of the SH oceans which lies south of 30 S. This is consistent with recent publications e.g. by CSIRO.

      Due to the strong air circulation over the SO and over Antarctica I have assumed that all CO2 monitoring stations sited in Antarctica are exhibiting CO2 levels which are also characteristic of the SO (so defined).

      Of the 7 Antarctic CO2 monitoring stations I used: HBA (Halley Bay), PSA (Palmer Station, SPO (South Pole), SYO (Syowa), JBN (Jubany), (CAA (Casey) and MAA (Mawson) all are located on the continental margin of Antarctica (including the Antarctic Peninsula; JBN) except for SPO.

      The other 8 stations I used: CGO (Cape Grim), TDF (Tierra del Fuego), CRZ (Crozet), MQA (Macquarie Is), CPT (Cape Point), AMS (Amserdam Island) and BAR (Baring Head) are not on the Antarctic continent.

      Please note not all stations were operating at the same time. For the period 1982 – 1994 the number of CO2 monitoring stations operating concurrently ranged from 3 – 9. I have estimated a mean value for one standard deviation of the % residual (with respect to the global average CO2) over that period to be 0.085%. For the period 1994 – 2007 the number of CO2 monitoring stations operating concurrently ranged from 9 – 12. I have estimated a mean value for one standard deviation of the % residual (with respect to the global average CO2) over that period to be 0.053%. This is why the precision of the estimated residual for the SO improves.

      Hi Nick

      A very good point. I was aware that near the Equator there are 2 sunshine peaks, at the equinoxes, and a minimum at the “summer” (and winter) solstice. I agree this is a possible – perhaps likely explanation for the annual bimodal chlorophyll a pattern in the equatorial 15S – 15N and sub-equatorial 0 – 30 S bands.

      However, it is much harder to invoke any such mechanisms for the marked contrast between the 30N – 60N and 30S – 60S bands. I’d like to note here that the Chlorophyll a versus SST plots are strictly for the oceans only. No land sensing whatsoever is included in these plots.

      Thanks for your comments, guys. I am really just putting this stuff up to excite interest in, and debate on the role of oceanic cyanobacteria which I feel is very much a forgotten factor.

  • http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/ Bob Tisdale

    Steven: You wrote, “the (unweighted) pooled average of all SO stations from below 30 S to the South Pole.” But earlier you defined SO as Southern Ocean and SH as Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, shouldn't the above quote read, the (unweighted) pooled average of all SH (not SO) stations from below 30 S to the South Pole?I haven't checked to see if the problem reoccurs throughout the post or in the graphs.Regards

  • Nick Stokes

    Steve,
    One initial comment. Your latitude bands are broad, and within them near the equator is a variety of sun seasonal behaviour. Near the Equator there are 2 sunshine peaks, at the equinoxes, and a minimum at the “summer” (and winter) solstice.

    So could it not be that the cyanobacteria are not just responding to this to give the bimodal behaviour there? This effect being more pronounced in the N because the higher part of the band (say 15-30N) is more land-rich than 0-15N.

    I agree that doesn’t explain the weaker Indian summers of the 30-60 bands.

    • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

      This all needs to be seen in the context of recent assertions that the SO has reached saturation in terms of rate of CO2 uptake:

      http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sci;316/5832/1735

      http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/319/5863/570a

      http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/319/5863/570c#REF2

      • Nick Stokes

        Steve,
        What do you think of these estimates. One range mentioned is 0.1 to 0.6 Gton/yr current uptake. It’s a big range, but in relation to the current burning of 8-10 Gt/yr, the numbers aren’t huge. Do you think they should be higher? or that there is scope for making them higher? Do you think there is going to be saturation, and at what level?

        • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

          Nick

          Yes, I agree that the typical range of biotic carbon uptake by the SO (< 1 Gt/yr) is not great in terms of the global anthropogenic input of 8 – 10 Gt/y. Globally, total biotic uptake is more significant of course.

          However, I am more interested in the evidence I have identified that the rate of uptake of CO2 by the SO (= a measure of total cyanobacterial productivity) is slowly increasing in spite of, and particularly under the present condition of rising atmospheric CO2 i.e. it appears to be an adaptive development.

          Note well the only possible alternative effect which could explain the data I have presented for the SO at least would be that the SO is getting colder (simply making CO2 more soluble). There is no evidence that is going on and some might say the reverse is occurring.

          The NH data I presented go directly to the issue of total cyanobacterial productivity e.g. through successive annual intervals.

          There is evidence this sort of adaptation (increasing cyanobacterial productivity due to rising CO2) has occurred before, e.g.:

          http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/5920/1443

          What I think is significant about this finding is that it necessarily implies that the rate of production of biogenic tropospheric aerosols (from DMS, isoprenes etc) should be increasing. Biogenic tropospheric aerosols are already a very large fraction of total tropospheric aerosols.

          This should increase the number of Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN) over the SO and hence possibly SH albedo.

          In addition there is also a lot of evidence that total cyanobacterial productivity raises sea surface albedo through the release of lipids on the surface during the concurrent predation by zooplankton and infections by cyanobacteriophages and through an increased density of reflective calcareous cyanobacteria ('coccolithophores') near the sea surface.

          So the key issue is not really the effect on CO2 uptake as such but the degree to which concurrent oceanic biotic effects which are very clearly negative feedbacks on CO2 are themselves increasing (with increasing CO2).

          I am sure you would agree that any such effects on cloud-based albedo and sea surface albedo could be very important. This is essentially where I am coming from here.

  • Nick Stokes

    Steve,One initial comment. Your latitude bands are broad, and within them near the equator is a variety of sun seasonal behaviour. Near the Equator there are 2 sunshine peaks, at the equinoxes, and a minimum at the “summer” (and winter) solstice.So could it not be that the cyanobacteria are not just responding to this to give the bimodal behaviour there? This effect being more pronounced in the N because the higher part of the band (say 15-30N) is more land-rich than 0-15N. I agree that doesn't explain the weaker Indian summers of the 30-60 bands.

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

    Hi BobYes you are correct. I have been bit sloppy with my language there. The above quote should read “…the (unweighted) pooled average of all SH stations from below 30 S to the South Pole?” However, I have adopted the definition of the (greater) SO as all that part of the SH oceans which lies south of 30 S. This is consistent with recent publications e.g. by CSIRO.Due to the strong air circulation over the SO and over Antarctica I have assumed that all CO2 monitoring stations sited in Antarctica are exhibiting CO2 levels which are also characteristic of the SO (so defined). Of the 7 Antarctic CO2 monitoring stations I used: HBA (Halley Bay), PSA (Palmer Station, SPO (South Pole), SYO (Syowa), JBN (Jubany), (CAA (Casey) and MAA (Mawson) all are located on the continental margin of Antarctica (including the Antarctic Peninsula; JBN) except for SPO. The other 8 stations I used: CGO (Cape Grim), TDF (Tierra del Fuego), CRZ (Crozet), MQA (Macquarie Is), CPT (Cape Point), AMS (Amserdam Island) and BAR (Baring Head) are not on the Antarctic continent.Please note not all stations were operating at the same time. For the period 1982 – 1994 the number of CO2 monitoring stations operating concurrently ranged from 3 – 9. I have estimated a mean value for one standard deviation of the % residual (with respect to the global average CO2) over that period to be 0.085%. For the period 1994 – 2007 the number of CO2 monitoring stations operating concurrently ranged from 9 – 12. I have estimated a mean value for one standard deviation of the % residual (with respect to the global average CO2) over that period to be 0.053%. This is why the precision of the estimated residual for the SO improves.Hi NickA very good point. I was aware that near the Equator there are 2 sunshine peaks, at the equinoxes, and a minimum at the “summer” (and winter) solstice. I agree this is a possible – perhaps likely explanation for the annual bimodal chlorophyll a pattern in the equatorial 15S – 15N and sub-equatorial 0 – 30 S bands.However, it is much harder to invoke any such mechanisms for the marked contrast between the 30N – 60N and 30S – 60S bands. I'd like to note here that the Chlorophyll a versus SST plots are strictly for the oceans only. No land sensing whatsoever is included in these plots.Thanks for your comments, guys. I am really just putting this stuff up to excite interest in, and debate on the role of oceanic cyanobacteria which I feel is very much a forgotten factor.

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

    This all needs to be seen in the context of recent assertions that the SO has reached saturation in terms of rate of CO2 uptake:http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/319/http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/319/

  • Nick Stokes

    Steve,What do you think of these estimates. One range mentioned is 0.1 to 0.6 Gton/yr current uptake. It's a big range, but in relation to the current burning of 8-10 Gt/yr, the numbers aren't huge. Do you think they should be higher? or that there is scope for making them higher? Do you think there is going to be saturation, and at what level?

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

    NickYes, I agree that the typical range of biotic carbon uptake by the SO (< 1 Gt/yr) is not great in terms of the global anthropogenic input of 8 – 10 Gt/y. Globally, total biotic uptake is more significant of course. However, I am more interested in the evidence I have identified that the rate of uptake of CO2 by the SO (= a measure of total cyanobacterial productivity) is slowly increasing in spite of, and particularly under the present condition of rising atmospheric CO2 i.e. it appears to be an adaptive development. Note well the only possible alternative effect which could explain the data I have presented for the SO at least would be that the SO is getting colder (simply making CO2 more soluble). There is no evidence that is going on and some might say the reverse is occurring.The NH data I presented go directly to the issue of total cyanobacterial productivity e.g. through successive annual intervals.There is evidence this sort of adaptation (increasing cyanobacterial productivity due to rising CO2) has occurred before, e.g.: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/…What I think is significant about this finding is that it necessarily implies that the rate of production of biogenic tropospheric aerosols (from DMS, isoprenes etc) should be increasing. Biogenic tropospheric aerosols are already a very large fraction of total tropospheric aerosols.This should increase the number of Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN) over the SO and hence possibly SH albedo.In addition there is also a lot of evidence that total cyanobacterial productivity raises sea surface albedo through the release of lipids on the surface during the concurrent predation by zooplankton and infections by cyanobacteriophages and through an increased density of reflective calcareous cyanobacteria ('coccolithophores') near the sea surface.So the key issue is not really the effect on CO2 uptake as such but the degree to which concurrent oceanic biotic effects which are very clearly negative feedbacks on CO2 are themselves increasing (with increasing CO2). I am sure you would agree that any such effects on cloud-based albedo and sea surface albedo could be very important. This is essentially where I am coming from here.

  • cohenite

    Hi Steve; from a food chain perspective, where do the cyanobacteria sit? Do other organisms eat them or is their population entirely a product of CO2 content? Which raises another point; are Cyanobacteria numbers a cause of or product of CO2 levels?

    • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

      Hi Cohenite

      The way it works is this.

      Land plants and cyanobacteria are photosynthesizers – they use the energy of light (SW) to take up CO2 and give off O2. Unlike land plants which take CO2 directly from the air, in water cyanobacteria (= phytoplankton; old name blue green algae) absorb CO2 directly from the water as dissolved molecular CO2 (CO2(aq)) and as bicarbonate (HCO3-). Therefore their growth is dependent on the amount of dissolved CO2 which increases with decreasing water temperature.

      Like land plants they respire (emit) O2 which dissolves in the water and then diffuses back to the atmosphere. Like land plants they form the base of the entire aquatic food chain.

      The bulk of the world’s cyanobacterial species evolved around 2.3 Gy ago and are of course responsible for the 21% O2 in our atmosphere. Furthermore the oceanic cyanobacteria are dominated by only two species the very small celled nano-cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus and their larger cousins Synechococcus. Some other common species cyanobacteria secret skeletal calcium carbonate (coccolithophores) or silica (diatoms).

      While both living (blooming) and dead (cells broken i.e. ‘lysed’) cyanobacteria emit volatile compounds of sulfur and carbon which transfer into the atmosphere above the sea surface and form CCN. This forms a feedback loop which increases low cloud cover, lowers water temperature, increases CO2 solubility, rains out valuable nutrients and starts the whole growth cycle again. In my view, this mechanism is very likely the reason why GCMs are extremely poor predictors of low altitude cloud cover over the oceans.

      Just as in a land-based jungle, cyanobacteria too live in an aquatic ‘jungle’ and have their predators who eat them. These are principally zooplankton, microscopic creatures which are tiny animals. Cyanobacteria are also subject to their own diseases which increase as the number (and hence density) of cyanobacterial cells increase. These are caused by cyanobacteriophages i.e. aquatic viruses.

      So when the cyanobacteria increase in population (‘bloom’) usually the population of zooplankton and cyanobacteriophages does too so the bloom has a finite lifetime as the amount of predation and disease increases. Thus a bloom is invariably followed by a die-off which results in the cellular contents of the dead and destroyed cyanobacteria spilling on to the sea surface where much of it (lipids) form a marine film which persists until it too is dispersed by wind and wave action (generating aerosols) or absorbed by aerobic bacteria.

      Dead cyanobacterial cells sink down through the water column and are eaten by bacteria, fish etc or sink onto the sea floor. The latter fraction is called the ‘sinking carbon flux’.

      Zooplankton and cyanobacteria are of course eaten in turn by higher organisms, such as krill (crustaceans, tiny shrimps), fish, and so on all the way up to whales.

      The growth of cyanobacteria is controlled by:
      (a) the availability of the nutrients they require – principally dissolved nitrogen (N; mostly nitrate, ammonia and urea), iron (Fe) and silicon (Si).
      (b) SW light flux
      (c) availability of dissolved CO2 etc and hence water temperature (not too warm as dissolved CO2 may be too low, not too cold as cellular metabolic rate and hence growth falls).

      It is well established from studies of ‘microcosms’ (enclosed UV transparent boxes floated in the sea) that, if all other conditions are satisfactory cyanobacterial growth increases with the atmospheric concentration of CO2 above the water surface (and hence in the water). This is the aquatic equivalent of pumping CO2 into greenhouses to boost (land) plant growth rate.

      So, increased blooming of cyanobacteria can be a product of increased CO2 levels provided the other constraints (a and b above) are not growth limiting (as they often can be).

      The density of live cyanobacterial cells in water is known as ‘primary productivity’. Primary because the cyanobacteria are the basis of the food chain as described above.

      The SO actually has a much lower primary productivity than most of the rest of the world’s ocean because the water is generally colder and being more remote from land, the availability of the N, Fe and Si nutrients are lower.

      This is why it is all the more remarkable that atmospheric CO2 levels over the SO are slowly lagging increasing behind the global average CO2 level while the latter steadily increases! In my view, this can only be indicative of a slowly increasing oceanic uptake of CO2 even in the SO.

  • cohenite

    Hi Steve; from a food chain perspective, where do the cyanobacteria sit? Do other organisms eat them or is their population entirely a product of CO2 content? Which raises another point; are Cyanobacteria numbers a cause of or product of CO2 levels?

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

    Hi CoheniteThe way it works is this. Land plants and cyanobacteria are photosynthesizers – they use the energy of light (SW) to take up CO2 and give off O2. Unlike land plants which take CO2 directly from the air, in water cyanobacteria (= phytoplankton; old name blue green algae) absorb CO2 directly from the water as dissolved molecular CO2 (CO2(aq)) and as bicarbonate (HCO3-). Therefore their growth is dependent on the amount of dissolved CO2 which increases with decreasing water temperature. Like land plants they respire (emit) O2 which dissolves in the water and then diffuses back to the atmosphere. Like land plants they form the base of the entire aquatic food chain. The bulk of the world's cyanobacterial species evolved around 2.3 Gy ago and are of course responsible for the 21% O2 in our atmosphere. Furthermore the oceanic cyanobacteria are dominated by only two species the very small celled nano-cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus and their larger cousins Synechococcus. Some other common species cyanobacteria secret skeletal calcium carbonate (coccolithophores) or silica (diatoms).While both living (blooming) and dead (cells broken i.e. 'lysed') cyanobacteria emit volatile compounds of sulfur and carbon which transfer into the atmosphere above the sea surface and form CCN. This forms a feedback loop which increases low cloud cover, lowers water temperature, increases CO2 solubility, rains out valuable nutrients and starts the whole growth cycle again. In my view, this mechanism is very likely the reason why GCMs are extremely poor predictors of low altitude cloud cover over the oceans.Just as in a land-based jungle, cyanobacteria too live in an aquatic 'jungle' and have their predators who eat them. These are principally zooplankton, microscopic creatures which are tiny animals. Cyanobacteria are also subject to their own diseases which increase as the number (and hence density) of cyanobacterial cells increase. These are caused by cyanobacteriophages i.e. aquatic viruses. So when the cyanobacteria increase in population ('bloom') usually the population of zooplankton and cyanobacteriophages does too so the bloom has a finite lifetime as the amount of predation and disease increases. Thus a bloom is invariably followed by a die-off which results in the cellular contents of the dead and destroyed cyanobacteria spilling on to the sea surface where much of it (lipids) form a marine film which persists until it too is dispersed by wind and wave action (generating aerosols) or absorbed by aerobic bacteria. Dead cyanobacterial cells sink down through the water column and are eaten by bacteria, fish etc or sink onto the sea floor. The latter fraction is called the 'sinking carbon flux'.Zooplankton and cyanobacteria are of course eaten in turn by higher organisms, such as krill (crustaceans, tiny shrimps), fish, and so on all the way up to whales.The growth of cyanobacteria is controlled by:(a) the availability of the nutrients they require – principally dissolved nitrogen (N; mostly nitrate, ammonia and urea), iron (Fe) and silicon (Si).(b) SW light flux(c) availability of dissolved CO2 etc and hence water temperature (not too warm as dissolved CO2 may be too low, not too cold as cellular metabolic rate and hence growth falls).It is well established from studies of 'microcosms' (enclosed UV transparent boxes floated in the sea) that, if all other conditions are satisfactory cyanobacterial growth increases with the atmospheric concentration of CO2 above the water surface (and hence in the water). This is the aquatic equivalent of pumping CO2 into greenhouses to boost (land) plant growth rate.So, increased blooming of cyanobacteria can be a product of increased CO2 levels provided the other constraints (a and b above) are not growth limiting (as they often can be).The density of live cyanobacterial cells in water is known as 'primary productivity'. Primary because the cyanobacteria are the basis of the food chain as described above. The SO actually has a much lower primary productivity than most of the rest of the world's ocean because the water is generally colder and being more remote from land, the availability of the N, Fe and Si nutrients are lower. This is why it is all the more remarkable that atmospheric CO2 levels over the SO are slowly lagging increasing behind the global average CO2 level while the latter steadily increases! In my view, this can only be indicative of a slowly increasing oceanic uptake of CO2 even in the SO.

  • David L. Hagen

    See some differences noted in the CO2 variations may be found in the following article which found some genetic differences:

    Vanishingly Ubiquitous Plankton

    Micromonas pusilla is a globally distributed photosynthetic picoeukaryote (less than 2 micrometers), which thrives from tropical to polar ecosystems. Worden et al. (p. 268; see the Perspective by Archibald) compare two strains within the purported single “species” and find far greater genome variability than anticipated–not just in gene complements, but at the most fundamental levels, such as in the capacity for RNA-processing. Micromonas is important to global carbon cycles, not only as a primary producer but also because of its relationship to the progenitors of land-plants. As ocean conditions shift, ubiquitous ocean organisms such as Micromonas promise to serve as reporters of ecological transitions.

    Green Evolution and Dynamic Adaptations Revealed by Genomes of the Marine Picoeukaryotes Micromonas
    Alexandra Z. Worden, et al. Science 10 April 2009: Vol. 324. no. 5924, pp. 268 – 272, DOI: 10.1126/science.1167222

    Picoeukaryotes are a taxonomically diverse group of organisms less than 2 micrometers in diameter. Photosynthetic marine picoeukaryotes in the genus Micromonas thrive in ecosystems ranging from tropical to polar and could serve as sentinel organisms for biogeochemical fluxes of modern oceans during climate change. These broadly distributed primary producers belong to an anciently diverged sister clade to land plants. Although Micromonas isolates have high 18S ribosomal RNA gene identity, we found that genomes from two isolates shared only 90% of their predicted genes. Their independent evolutionary paths were emphasized by distinct riboswitch arrangements as well as the discovery of intronic repeat elements in one isolate, and in metagenomic data, but not in other genomes. Divergence appears to have been facilitated by selection and acquisition processes that actively shape the repertoire of genes that are mutually exclusive between the two isolates differently than the core genes. Analyses of the Micromonas genomes

    • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

      Yes, David, the capacity for rapid adaptation in marine photosynthetic eukaryotes and prokaryotes is an extremely important point. It is worth noting picophytoplankton can be either prokaryotic (simple, without a nuclear membrane) or eukaryotic (complex, with a nuclear membrane).

      The more abundant prokaryotic marine picophytoplankton are dominated by two genera, Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus.
      Both were discovered relatively recently—Synechococcus
      in 1979, and Prochlorococcus in 1988. These two species dominate the world’s marine biomass. Before these relatively recent discoveries, which in the latter case (Prochlorococcus) even post-dates the rise of the AGW movement the global importance of picophytoplankton was not realized at all!

      Prochlorococcus is the smallest known photosynthetic organism (0.5 – 0.7 um) and is thought to be the most abundant phytoplankton on Earth with typically around 100,000 cells/mL of seawater. Synechococcus is a bit larger in size (0.6 – 1.6 um) and is found from the North Pole to the South Pole with typically around 10,000 cell/mL of seawater. The picoeukaryotes like Micromonas which you referenced above are larger (0.8 – 2.0 um) and less abundant again with levels typically around 1000 cells/mL of seawater.

      The (more primitive) prokaryotic picophytoplankton are especially adaptive. For example; four years ago I discovered that both Proclorococcus and Synechococcus can be drawn into active underground coal mines near the coast (with particles of salt in the ventilation air supply) and thereby inoculate themselves into undergound storages of brackish groundwater/wastewater which are totally in the dark, but to then still still occur at typical abundances of approximately 100,000 and 10,000 cells/mL respectively. The cellular identifications were made by several respected professionals from different laboratories and are beyond dispute. I even commissioned a UNSW study to look for the genetic tracers of possible co-habiting marine luminescent bacteria and failed to find them. This is a powerful testament to the ability of prokaryotic picophytoplankton to switch over completely (and indefinitely) to a heterotrophic (non-photosynthetic) form of growth when denied light. This finding has astonished every expert on marine phytoplankton I have consulted – right up to the most respected US authorities on the subject.

      This has left me in no doubt whatsoever that as mankind raises the atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 AND concurrently pollutes coastal shelf waters with increasing amounts of waste nitrogen and phosphorus powerful forces of adaptation in the vast biomass of marine picophytoplankton are now occurring in these waters which could well ‘alter the global climate ball game’ altogether.

      We humans have such an arrogant propensity to think we know it all and can predict everything with our science. Meantime countless tiny organisms who in fact gave this planet the atmosphere of 21% oxygen we unthinkingly breathe are even now undergoing rapid genetic adaptations to our major biogeochemical impacts which ultimately could render all such predictions utterly useless.

      Even when I read about e.g. Miskolczi Theory, which for all its plausible and attractive formalism and a lot of hand waving about so-called correlations/laws/rules blah blah at the end of the day doesn’t actually provide a concrete mechanisms for how and why albedo should go up and lower tropospheric specific humidity should go down with rising atmospheric CO2, producing no significant change in the planets heat balance I ask myself what could plausibly produce such effects?

      There’s a very good question for Zagoni on the 15th! I’ll bet anyone a bottle of good Scotch there won’t be a plausible answer and more excitable Hungarian hand waving will ensue. At least I’ve got a damn good one.

      • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

        Patagonian dust machine.

        Most of the dust in Antarctic ice cores originates in the glacial outwash of Patagonia. Ice cores show that Antarctic warming and a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide lead Northern Hemipshere warming, potentially indicating a high-latitude Southern Hemisphere trigger (Petit et al. 1999; Broecker et al. 1998).

        Sedimentary evidence suggests that during the last glacial period, Patagonian pro-glacial lakes provided an on-off switch for the dust flux to Antarctica. Sugden and co-workers (2009) show that southern Patagonia glaciers also retreated about 21,000 years ago, perhaps as a consequence of decreased precipitation driven by the northward migration of the westerly storm tracks. The southern westerlies reached their northernmost position around 21,000 years ago (Larry et al. 1993).

        Could the turning off of the iron-rich dust for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, which preceded warming in Antarctica by 1000 years, be the critical step in the Termination [of the last ice age]? This finding raises the possibility that reduced iron-stimulated [cyanobacterial] productivity in the Southern Ocean, and hence reduced drawdown of atmospheric carbon dioxide (Martin, 1990) may be an integral component of Termination mechanics.

        Ackert, R.P. Nature Geoscience Vol 2 , 244- 245, April 2009.

        • http://www.ecoengineers.com/ Steve Short

          Feeding on cyanobacterial blooms.

          Lebrato, M. and Jones, D.O.B., 2009. Mass deposition event of Pyrosoma atlanticum carcasses off Ivory Coast (West Africa). Limnology and Oceanography, 54, 1197-1209.

          Billett, D.S.M., Bett, B.J., Jacobs, C.L., Rouse, I.P. and Wigham, B.D., 2006. Mass deposition of jellyfish in the deep Arabian Sea. Limnology and Oceanography, 51, (5), 2077-2083.

          http://news.tradingcharts.com/futures/3/2/124569223.html

          • http://www.ecoengineers.com/ Steve Short

            More on aerosols (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’) coming in:

            http://theresilientearth.com/?q=content/arctic-aerosols-indicate-melting-ice-not-caused-co2

          • http://www.ecoengineers.com/ Steve Short

            Clouds contain millions of water droplets and, if the temperatures are low enough, ice crystals form. Ice formation in clouds has a disproportionate effect on climate, initiating precipitation in some clouds and altering the albedo of the Earth. Despite their significance, the formation of atmospheric ice crystals is poorly understood. The composition of the particles – known as ice nuclei – responsible for a significant portion of cloud ice formation is particularly uncertain. Although inorganic materials such as mineral dust are known to be involved, the role of biogenic particles is more contentious.

            Laboratory experiments suggest that biological particles, such as certain bacteria, fungi and pollen , are known to initiate ice formation at warm sub-zero temperatures (Mohler et al. Biogeosciences vol 4, 1059- 1071, 2007) but the relevance of these particles to atmospheric ice formation was hitherto uncertain.

            Two new studies, Pratt et al. Nature Geoscience, vol 2, 398-401 (2009) and Prenni et al. Nature Geoscience, vol 2, 402-405 (2009) conducted with ice collected in situ from clouds over Wyoming and the Amazon respectively, and using modern techniques of mass spectrometry, TEM and EDAX etc., strongly suggests that biogenic material can influence cloud ice formation in the real atmosphere.

            Further field studies investigating ice nuclei composition in situ, together with further refinement of methodological techniques, are now needed to to verify the global significance of these recent findings.

            If biological particles do prove to be important in cloud-ice interactions, then we need to find a way of incorporating the source, transport and nucleation efficiency of these particles into global climate and smaller-scale models.

  • David L. Hagen

    See some differences noted in the CO2 variations may be found in the following article which found some genetic differences:Vanishingly Ubiquitous Plankton

    Micromonas pusilla is a globally distributed photosynthetic picoeukaryote (less than 2 micrometers), which thrives from tropical to polar ecosystems. Worden et al. (p. 268; see the Perspective by Archibald) compare two strains within the purported single “species” and find far greater genome variability than anticipated–not just in gene complements, but at the most fundamental levels, such as in the capacity for RNA-processing. Micromonas is important to global carbon cycles, not only as a primary producer but also because of its relationship to the progenitors of land-plants. As ocean conditions shift, ubiquitous ocean organisms such as Micromonas promise to serve as reporters of ecological transitions.

    Green Evolution and Dynamic Adaptations Revealed by Genomes of the Marine Picoeukaryotes MicromonasAlexandra Z. Worden, et al. Science 10 April 2009: Vol. 324. no. 5924, pp. 268 – 272, DOI: 10.1126/science.1167222

    Picoeukaryotes are a taxonomically diverse group of organisms less than 2 micrometers in diameter. Photosynthetic marine picoeukaryotes in the genus Micromonas thrive in ecosystems ranging from tropical to polar and could serve as sentinel organisms for biogeochemical fluxes of modern oceans during climate change. These broadly distributed primary producers belong to an anciently diverged sister clade to land plants. Although Micromonas isolates have high 18S ribosomal RNA gene identity, we found that genomes from two isolates shared only 90% of their predicted genes. Their independent evolutionary paths were emphasized by distinct riboswitch arrangements as well as the discovery of intronic repeat elements in one isolate, and in metagenomic data, but not in other genomes. Divergence appears to have been facilitated by selection and acquisition processes that actively shape the repertoire of genes that are mutually exclusive between the two isolates differently than the core genes. Analyses of the Micromonas genomes

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

    Yes, David, the capacity for rapid adaptation in marine photosynthetic eukaryotes and prokaryotes is an extremely important point. It is worth noting picophytoplankton can be either prokaryotic (simple, without a nuclear membrane) or eukaryotic (complex, with a nuclear membrane). The more abundant prokaryotic marine picophytoplankton are dominated by two genera, Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus.Both were discovered relatively recently—Synechococcusin 1979, and Prochlorococcus in 1988. These two species dominate the world's marine biomass. Before these relatively recent discoveries, which in the latter case (Prochlorococcus) even post-dates the rise of the AGW movement the global importance of picophytoplankton was not realized at all! Prochlorococcus is the smallest known photosynthetic organism (0.5 – 0.7 um) and is thought to be the most abundant phytoplankton on Earth with typically around 100,000 cells/mL of seawater. Synechococcus is a bit larger in size (0.6 – 1.6 um) and is found from the North Pole to the South Pole with typically around 10,000 cell/mL of seawater. The picoeukaryotes like Micromonas which you referenced above are larger (0.8 – 2.0 um) and less abundant again with levels typically around 1000 cells/mL of seawater.The (more primitive) prokaryotic picophytoplankton are especially adaptive. For example; four years ago I discovered that both Proclorococcus and Synechococcus can be drawn into active underground coal mines near the coast (with particles of salt in the ventilation air supply) and thereby inoculate themselves into undergound storages of brackish groundwater/wastewater which are totally in the dark, but to then still still occur at typical abundances of approximately 100,000 and 10,000 cells/mL respectively. The cellular identifications were made by several respected professionals from different laboratories and are beyond dispute. I even commissioned a UNSW study to look for the genetic tracers of possible co-habiting marine luminescent bacteria and failed to find them. This is a powerful testament to the ability of prokaryotic picophytoplankton to switch over completely (and indefinitely) to a heterotrophic (non-photosynthetic) form of growth when denied light. This finding has astonished every expert on marine phytoplankton I have consulted – right up to the most respected US authorities on the subject. This has left me in no doubt whatsoever that as mankind raises the atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 AND concurrently pollutes coastal shelf waters with increasing amounts of waste nitrogen and phosphorus powerful forces of adaptation in the vast biomass of marine picophytoplankton are now occurring in these waters which could well 'alter the global climate ball game' altogether. We humans have such an arrogant propensity to think we know it all and can predict everything with our science. Meantime countless tiny organisms who in fact gave this planet the atmosphere of 21% oxygen we unthinkingly breathe are even now undergoing rapid genetic adaptations to our major biogeochemical impacts which ultimately could render all such predictions utterly useless.Even when I read about e.g. Miskolczi Theory, which for all its plausible and attractive formalism and a lot of hand waving about so-called correlations/laws/rules blah blah at the end of the day doesn't actually provide a concrete mechanisms for how and why albedo should go up and lower tropospheric specific humidity should go down with rising atmospheric CO2, producing no significant change in the planets heat balance I ask myself what could plausibly produce such effects? There's a very good question for Zagoni on the 15th! I'll bet anyone a bottle of good Scotch there won't be a plausible answer and more excitable Hungarian hand waving will ensue. At least I've got a damn good one.

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com Steve Short

    Patagonian dust machine.Most of the dust in Antarctic ice cores originates in the glacial outwash of Patagonia. Ice cores show that Antarctic warming and a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide lead Northern Hemipshere warming, potentially indicating a high-latitude Southern Hemisphere trigger (Petit et al. 1999; Broecker et al. 1998). Sedimentary evidence suggests that during the last glacial period, Patagonian pro-glacial lakes provided an on-off switch for the dust flux to Antarctica. Sugden and co-workers (2009) show that southern Patagonia glaciers also retreated about 21,000 years ago, perhaps as a consequence of decreased precipitation driven by the northward migration of the westerly storm tracks. The southern westerlies reached their northernmost position around 21,000 years ago (Larry et al. 1993). Could the turning off of the iron-rich dust for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, which preceded warming in Antarctica by 1000 years, be the critical step in the Termination [of the last ice age]? This finding raises the possibility that reduced iron-stimulated [cyanobacterial] productivity in the Southern Ocean, and hence reduced drawdown of atmospheric carbon dioxide (Martin, 1990) may be an integral component of Termination mechanics.Ackert, R.P. Nature Geoscience Vol 2 , 244- 245, April 2009.

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com/ Steve Short

    Feeding on cyanobacterial blooms.Lebrato, M. and Jones, D.O.B., 2009. Mass deposition event of Pyrosoma atlanticum carcasses off Ivory Coast (West Africa). Limnology and Oceanography, 54, 1197-1209.Billett, D.S.M., Bett, B.J., Jacobs, C.L., Rouse, I.P. and Wigham, B.D., 2006. Mass deposition of jellyfish in the deep Arabian Sea. Limnology and Oceanography, 51, (5), 2077-2083. http://news.tradingcharts.com/futures/3/2/12456

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com/ Steve Short

    More on aerosols (both 'good' and 'bad') coming in:http://theresilientearth.com/?q=content/arctic-

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com/ Steve Short

    Clouds contain millions of water droplets and, if the temperatures are low enough, ice crystals form. Ice formation in clouds has a disproportionate effect on climate, initiating precipitation in some clouds and altering the albedo of the Earth. Despite their significance, the formation of atmospheric ice crystals is poorly understood. The composition of the particles – known as ice nuclei – responsible for a significant portion of cloud ice formation is particularly uncertain. Although inorganic materials such as mineral dust are known to be involved, the role of biogenic particles is more contentious.Laboratory experiments suggest that biological particles, such as certain bacteria, fungi and pollen , are known to initiate ice formation at warm sub-zero temperatures (Mohler et al. Biogeosciences vol 4, 1059- 1071, 2007) but the relevance of these particles to atmospheric ice formation was hitherto uncertain.Two new studies, Pratt et al. Nature Geoscience, vol 2, 398-401 (2009) and Prenni et al. Nature Geoscience, vol 2, 402-405 (2009) conducted with ice collected in situ from clouds over Wyoming and the Amazon respectively, and using modern techniques of mass spectrometry, TEM and EDAX etc., strongly suggests that biogenic material can influence cloud ice formation in the real atmosphere. Further field studies investigating ice nuclei composition in situ, together with further refinement of methodological techniques, are now needed to to verify the global significance of these recent findings. If biological particles do prove to be important in cloud-ice interactions, then we need to find a way of incorporating the source, transport and nucleation efficiency of these particles into global climate and smaller-scale models.

  • http://www.ecoengineers.com/ Steve Short

    Clouds contain millions of water droplets and, if the temperatures are low enough, ice crystals form. Ice formation in clouds has a disproportionate effect on climate, initiating precipitation in some clouds and altering the albedo of the Earth. Despite their significance, the formation of atmospheric ice crystals is poorly understood. The composition of the particles – known as ice nuclei – responsible for a significant portion of cloud ice formation is particularly uncertain. Although inorganic materials such as mineral dust are known to be involved, the role of biogenic particles is more contentious.Laboratory experiments suggest that biological particles, such as certain bacteria, fungi and pollen , are known to initiate ice formation at warm sub-zero temperatures (Mohler et al. Biogeosciences vol 4, 1059- 1071, 2007) but the relevance of these particles to atmospheric ice formation was hitherto uncertain.Two new studies, Pratt et al. Nature Geoscience, vol 2, 398-401 (2009) and Prenni et al. Nature Geoscience, vol 2, 402-405 (2009) conducted with ice collected in situ from clouds over Wyoming and the Amazon respectively, and using modern techniques of mass spectrometry, TEM and EDAX etc., strongly suggests that biogenic material can influence cloud ice formation in the real atmosphere. Further field studies investigating ice nuclei composition in situ, together with further refinement of methodological techniques, are now needed to to verify the global significance of these recent findings. If biological particles do prove to be important in cloud-ice interactions, then we need to find a way of incorporating the source, transport and nucleation efficiency of these particles into global climate and smaller-scale models.

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