Project Highlights

Ocean phytoplankton and other marine plants produce an estimated 50 percent of the world’s oxygen and annually sequester billions of tons of carbon
These organisms’ ability to effectively photosynthesize and absorb carbon is negatively impacted by repeated exposure to ultraviolet light (UV)
Increased storms lead to new patterns of ocean water column mixing, potentially increasing how often phytoplankton are exposed to high UV
Using tools invented at Smithsonian, scientists are working to measure UV impacts in phytoplankton-rich Antarctic waters and in the lab to help predict the effects of varying levels of UV exposure
LOCATION(S): Antarctica
Topics: Global Change

Phytoplankton help absorb billions of tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. These tiny organisms are sensitive to overexposure from solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Changing weather patterns may increase the exposure of phytoplankton to UV radiation, potentially reducing their ability to help sequester carbon. Smithsonian researcher Patrick Neale and his lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center are studying UV impacts on phytoplankton in the Antarctic oceans, where the single-celled plants are abundant, to help create models of how phytoplankton respond in various scenarios of climate change.