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The microscopic plants that support all life in the oceans are dying off at a dramatic rate, according to a study that has documented for the first time a disturbing and unprecedented change at the base of the marine food web.
Scientists have discovered that the phytoplankton of the oceans has declined by about 40 per cent over the past century
They believe the change is linked with rising sea temperatures and global warming.
"If this holds up, something really serious is underway and has
Phytoplankton are microscopic marine organisms capable of photosynthesis, just like terrestrial plants. They float in the upper layers of the oceans, provide much of the oxygen we breathe and account for about half of the total organic matter on Earth. A 40 per cent decline would represent a massive change to the global biosphere.
They found that this decline correlated with a corresponding rise in sea-surface temperatures – although they cannot prove that warmer oceans caused the decline.
"Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary life support system. They produce half of the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface CO2 and ultimately support all of our fishes." he said.