Email Print Share
March 19, 2020

Seas of Change

In many ways, what Earth will look like in 50 to 100 years depends on how the tiniest sea creatures respond to warming oceans.

Credit: Karson Productions/National Science Foundation

Seas of change.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(underwater sounds) (microbes party in bg) Marine microbes. These little guys don’t always get the props they deserve for the huge things they do. Like, say producing half the oxygen we breathe. And don’t get me started on their importance in the food chain supporting worldwide fisheries.

In many ways, what Earth will look like in fifty to a hundred years depends on how these tiny creatures respond to a changing climate. So what are their likely strategies for survival? (dramatic sting…duh duh duuh nuhhh)

A team at USC, working with the University of Edinburgh and NOAA, has developed a model to predict how these crucial microbes will adapt to warming waters. It’s a framework for understanding the response of different microorganisms to an assortment of variables, including human-caused changes in marine environments.

As the researchers tweaked the model with simulations of different conditions, the microbes responded two ways: Some changed easily, living for now, thriving, with little preparation for the future. Others took a long-term approach, evolving to be able to proliferate in large numbers once the temperature stabilized at a higher level.

Freely available to scientists, the study may contribute to the formulation of other climate change forecast models.

Might call it, ‘testing the waters’.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation.

Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.