US Space Laser Reveals Life Cycles of Polar Ocean Plants

© WikipediaSea ice in the Ross Sea, Antarctica
Sea ice in the Ross Sea, Antarctica - Sputnik International
A US laser-equipped satellite discovered that small changes in Antarctica’s ice cover exert a pervasive influence in the life cycle of phytoplankton, the tiny creatures at the base of Earth’s food chain, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said in a press release.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The satellite used in the study illuminates the ocean surfaces with laser light, allowing observations to take place through dense cloud cover and during winter, when darkness shrouds the North and South Poles, according to the release.

"In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, though, changes in the ice cover were more important to phytoplankton population fluctuations than were differences in growth rates and predation," the release stated on Tuesday.

Sea ice in the Ross Sea, Antarctica - Sputnik International
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The results contradict existing scientific theory that the “boom-and-bust” cycles of phytoplankton depend on the relationship between phytoplankton growth rates and population of predators such as fish and marine mammals.

The findings have implications for scientific understanding of the interaction between the Earth’s climate and ocean ecosystems, the release noted.

Phytoplankton plays a key role in the planet’s carbon cycle, the release explained. Through photosynthesis, they absorb a great deal of the carbon dioxide dissolved in the upper ocean and produce oxygen, which is vital for life on Earth. This reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

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