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UNESCO-led initiative releases new research on ocean phytoplankton and climate change

Date: 14 March 2023

The Journal of Plankton Research has published five new research papers shedding new light on the dynamics of ocean phytoplankton amid climate change, the result of international scientific collaboration under UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC/UNESCO).

Tiny plant-like organisms called phytoplankton are crucial for life in the ocean. They help to capture carbon from the atmosphere and play an important role in the natural cycles that keep the ocean healthy. Phytoplankton are also affected by human activities and climate change, which can harm their communities and disrupt the ocean's ecosystem.

As the United Nations calls on its Governments and on all parts of society to deliver new, transformative ocean science through the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), studying phytoplankton is essential.

Not only is phytoplankton the base of the ocean food web, which means that changes in their abundance or composition can have far-reaching impacts on the entire ecosystem, but they also play a crucial role in regulating the Earth's climate by capturing carbon from the atmosphere through a process called carbon fixation. Understanding the dynamics of phytoplankton populations is important for predicting and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Changes in phytoplankton populations are an important indicator of the overall health of the ocean, which is crucial for the sustainable development of our planet. By studying phytoplankton, scientists can better understand how human activities and climate change are affecting the ocean and develop strategies to protect and restore this vital ecosystem.

The IOC/UNESCO working group to investigate Climate Change and Global Trends of Phytoplankton in the Ocean (TrendsPO) was established in 2016 to apply comprehensive, novel analyses of phytoplankton to help improve overall understanding of broader ongoing ecological changes in the planet, including climate change.

The Working Group brings together 50 experts from 14 countries, who collaborate under the coordination of IOC/UNESCO to generate new knowledge and analyses that can help inform society’s response to planetary changes and their impact on ocean ecosystems.

TrendsPO published its latest series of new research in the authoritative Journal of Plankton Research, under a special thematic section entitled “Trends in Phytoplankton over space and time”. 

The section opens with a paper that stresses the importance of implementing global time series that support the management of our biosphere (Thompson and Carstensen, 2022), followed by four papers providing good case studies for the value of long-term time series to understanding phytoplankton community structure, ecological responses to climate change, extreme events and eutrophication and the potential for adaptation (Fiorendino et al., 2021; Longobardi et al., 2022; Olli et al., 2022; Thompson et al., 2022).

Access the full issue of the Journal of Plankton Research.


About the IOC-UNESCO:

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development.

About the Ocean Decade:

Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.