In 2009, the research schooner Tara set sail on a three-year journey. The crew would be facing rough waters and the threat of pirates in the name of studying plankton—microscopic organisms that can serve as a proxy for the overall health of an ocean ecosystem. Now, five studies in the journal Science offer a new take on the state of the oceans, the largest ecosystem in the world, and one that’s under enormous strain.
“We provide the most complete description yet of the organisms together with their genetic repertoires,” said Chris Bowler, a scientific coordinator on the expedition, on a call with the media.
“Thanks to the treasure in Tara‘s holds, life in the ocean is a little less murky than it was before.”
Plankton diversity was higher than anticipated. Differences in ocean temperature—as opposed to geography or some other environmental factor—seem to chiefly determine which kind of plankton survives, according to the study. Because plankton play an essential role in sustaining life on Earth by propping up the bottom of the food chain, rising temperatures could have grave implications for other sea life, in part because scientists don’t yet know how plankton overall will respond as ocean temperatures increase with global warming. In addition to their role as the primary food source for many fish and whales, plankton also provide half the oxygen produced on the planet each year through photosynthesis.
Read on the article on Time.com
Photos © Courtesy of Sacha Bollet/Fonds Tara