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Tiny algae could spell giant climate troubles

algae-on-rockTiny creatures known as diatoms could have a huge impact on the planet if, as scientists fear, they become less able to absorb carbon dioxide as the climate warms.

Diatoms, a major group of eukaryotic algae, currently take in nearly one-fourth of the world’s carbon dioxide. However, their carbon-sucking abilities depend on the amount of nutrients in their watery habitats. And that’s where problems could arise as the globe warms, according to Elena Litchman, a professor of zoology at Michigan State University.

“On a global scale, increased ocean temperatures could make the ocean more stratified,” Litchman said. “This would cause less mixing and create stronger nutrient limitation and less frequent nutrient pulses. A change like this would select for different sizes of diatoms. If smaller sized diatoms dominate, then carbon sequestration becomes less efficient and there may be more CO2 remaining in the atmosphere, which would exacerbate global warming.”

Looks like Bruce Springsteen is once again proved right: “From small things, mama, big things one day come.”

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