WASHINGTON - In a "sneak peak" revealing a grim side effect of future warmer seas new NASA satellite data find that the vital base of the ocean food web shrinks when the world's seas get hotter.
And that discovery has scientists worried about how much food marine life will have as global warming progresses.
The data show a significant link between warmer water — either from the El Nino weather phenomenon or global warming — and reduced production of phytoplankton of the world's oceans, according to a study in Thursday's journal Nature.
Phytoplankton are the microscopic plant life that zooplankton and other marine animals eat, essentially the grain crop of the world's oceans.
Study lead author Michael Behrenfeld, a biological oceanographer at Oregon State University, said Wednesday that the recent dramatic drop in phytoplankton production in much of the world's oceans is a "sneak peak of how ocean biology" will respond later in the century with global warming.
"Everything else up the food web is going to be impacted," said oceanographer Scott Doney of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He was not involved in the study.
"What's worrisome is that small changes that happen in the bottom of the food web can have dramatic changes to certain species at higher spots on the food chain," Doney said.