Scientists are hard at work figuring out how different types of zooplankton have a crucial role in storing carbon dioxide in the deep ocean, keeping it from affecting the atmosphere.
The research takes place during the night when zooplankton ascend from the ocean’s depths to the surface to feed on phytoplankton. Overcoming challenges in this unconventional setting, including blinding strobe lights to temporarily incapacitate zooplankton, scientists are capturing these microorganisms to unlock the secrets they hold.
According to Yuuki Niimi, a second-year Ph.D. student at Arizona State University’s Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS):
“While the conditions can be daunting, the rewards are immeasurable when we pull up a net filled with this microcosm of life.”
Zooplankton, found in a spectrum of sizes and shapes, are the unsung heroes of the ocean’s ecosystem. They serve as the foundation of the marine food web and are integral to the biological carbon pump, a crucial process responsible for sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the deep ocean. Recognizing the pivotal roles of different zooplankton species in this process is paramount as ocean conditions continue to evolve.
Leocadio Blanco-Bercial, an ASU BIOS researcher, says:
“Zooplankton are the most abundant animals on Earth. They sustain all the trophic webs in the oceans.”
Susanne Neuer, the founding director of the School of Ocean Futures at ASU, underscores the gravity of this research:
“The oceans absorb approximately a quarter to a third of all global emissions through this carbon pump. Without it, we would have already exceeded the 1.5-degree Celsius target set by the Paris climate agreement. The ocean is buying us precious time, and that time is made possible by plankton.”