Phytoplankton. If the mention of the tiny plant organisms that permeate the world's oceans isn't enough to pique your interest, consider this: They produce the oxygen in every other breath you take.Emphasis mine.
Still not interested? This is where it's hard not to take notice. In 2007, the reproduction rate of phytoplankton in the Gulf of Maine decreased suddenly by a factor of five — what used to take a day now takes five — and according to a recently released study by the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay, it hasn't bounced back.
So what does it mean? According to Barney Balch, the lab's senior research scientist and lead author of the study, such a change in organisms at the bottom of the planetary food chain and at the top of planetary oxygen production could have disastrous consequences for virtually every species on Earth, from lobsters and fish that fuel Maine's marine industries to your grandchildren. But the 12-year Bigelow study focused only on the Gulf of Maine, which leads to the question, will it spread?
"I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to know that if you shut down the base of the marine food web, the results won't be positive," said Balch.
Balch said the study, which was published recently in the Marine Ecology Progress Series, provides one of the strongest links to date between increases in rainfall and temperature over the years and the Gulf of Maine's ecosystem. Key factors in the study's conclusions were driven by 100 years of records on rainfall and river discharge, both of which have increased by between 13 and 20 percent over the past century.
..."When you collect the amount of data that we've collected, it's hard to discount the significance," said Balch. "I know there are skeptics out there who still discount the issue of climate change, but the evidence now is just striking. We need to be thinking very carefully about trying to slow this down."
We need to be thinking carefully about lots of stuff that we're dutifully ignoring, so I hope the phytoplankton won't get its hopes up! We're so busy ignoring our crumbling infrastructure and the impending demographic crisis of an aging population that we don't even have TIME to talk about ignoring the environment!
The good news is: If there's no more oxygen, we won't have to worry about not being able to afford retirement.