Algae Shows Signs of Past and Present Climate Change

Coccolithophores, microscopic ocean algae, provides clues about the effects of climate change that’s happening now and that already happened millions of years ago.

According to a new study, coccolithophores, a type of plankton, have calcium carbonate shells that are preserved on the seafloor after death and can serve as a fossil record to show previous and present climate change effects. Their calcite shells are potentially sensitive to ocean acidification that occurs when rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed by the ocean, increasing its acidity.

Researchers from the University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre and University College London, found that the species Toweius pertusus continued to reproduce relatively quickly despite rapidly changing environmental conditions. This is perhaps why closely-related modern-day descendants of the species are still alive today.

"This work provides us with a whole new way of looking at living and fossil coccolithophores," said lead author Dr. Samantha Gibbs, Senior Research Fellow at University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science.

"This is a significant step forward and allows us to view fossils as cells rather than dead 'rocks'. Through this we can begin to understand the environmental controls on oceanic calcification, as well as the potential effects of climate change and ocean acidification," said co-author Dr. Alex Poulton.