Yellow Detritus in Oceans May Reduce Climate Change Effects

NASA’s Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager instrument captured the waters of the Mackenzie River Delta flowing into the Beaufort Sea in July 2017. Phytoplankton, along with dissolved organic matter and water molecules, absorb light entering the ocean and influence ocean warming. Credit: Norman Kuring, NASA/GSFC/OBPG

Phytoplankton and organic matter in the oceans that floats near the surface attenuate the light entering the water, filtering the light and changing how it affects the water below. One type of material found in the oceans, known as colored detrital matter (CDM), is a mix of organic material from various sources: material formed in the ocean, washed from land and that rises from the seafloor. According to recent research, this mixed CDM material could alter the oceans and change the impacts of climate change by influencing ocean temperature.

Viewed from a satellite, the organic material in CDM tints the ocean yellow, and this difference in color as compared to the green filter created by floating phytoplankton has different effects on the oceans. For example, when researchers modeled an ocean that is more yellow compared to green, they found that the presence of yellow CDM lowers sea surface temperatures, reduces ocean heat content and decreases sea surface height over 300 years.

The research study that modeled the effects of the yellow material on climate change in oceans was published in Geophysical Research Letters on Sept. 25, 2018. Learn more about the study at the EOS Earth & Space Science News website.

Article Citation: Sidder, A. (2018), Yellow detritus in the oceans may help reduce warming, Eos, 99, Published on 25 September 2018.

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