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New research shows that climate change is altering the hue of our oceans.

A recent study finds that the ocean’s color has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, and that this is likely due to human-caused climate change.

A team of researchers led by experts from the National Oceanography Center in the UK and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in a statement that more than half of the oceans’ color has shifted in ways that can’t be attributed to random chance.

The study, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, found that tropical oceans near the equator have gotten greener in the past two decades due to changes in their ecosystems.

The higher layers of the wfater include the materials responsible for the ocean’s hue. A deep blue sea, for instance, will have very little life in it, whereas a green sea will have ecosystems based on phytoplankton, plant-like bacteria that carry chlorophyll. Larger organisms like krill, fish, seabirds, and marine mammals rely on phytoplankton as the foundation of a food web.

Senior research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and the Center for Global Change Science at MIT and co-author on the study Stephanie Dutkiewicz remarked that it is unclear how exactly these ecosystems are changing. It is likely that the types of phytoplankton prevalent throughout the ocean will shift, with some regions having less and others having more.

Any shift in phytoplankton levels will have far-reaching effects on marine ecosystems. All these alterations are disrupting the ecological balance. If our waters continue to warm, the imbalance will only get worse over time, she said.

Dutkiewicz added that this would have an effect on the ocean’s capacity to operate as a carbon storage because different plankton absorb varied amounts of carbon.

Researchers are still trying to figure out the full implications of the shifts, but they have concluded that human-caused climate change is the primary factor.

“Obvious trend”

Scientists tracked the amount of green and blue light reflected by the ocean’s surface to detect color variations over time.

Aqua satellite data was utilized since it has been tracking ocean color changes for over two decades and can detect subtle shifts that would be invisible to the naked eye.

They used climate change models to anticipate what would happen to the oceans with and without extra pollution that warms the earth, based on an analysis of color variation data from 2002 to 2022.

Approximately 50% of the world’s waters changed hue, as Dutkiewicz predicted they would if greenhouse gases were introduced to the atmosphere.

For years, Dutkiewicz’s computer simulations have shown that the seas’ color would shift, so she is not surprised by this discovery.

“However, I found the results to be extremely sobering; another wake-up call that human-caused climate change has had a significant impact on the earth system,” she said.

Dutkiewicz said it was uncertain if, as the process continued, the variations in color would become perceptible to the human eye.

Maybe if there was a major tipping point in a few locations. Dutkiewicz warned that “you’d have to study the colors for a while” to see the shifts.

Dutkiewicz has stated that she plans to continue investigating the possible causes of the color variations she has observed in various maritime locations.

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