Blue Bacteria in Bloom; April 2012; Scientific American Magazine; by Lucas Laursen; 1 Page(s)
On their own, cyanobacteria are tiny photosynthetic organisms floating in the sea. But when they join forces, linking together into chains and then mats by the millions, they can become a threat. Before long, the bacteria change the color of the sea’s surface and even soften the wind-tossed chop. One study of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, although they are not algae, predicted that rising sea temperatures could help the already widespread creatures expand their territory by more than 10 percent. Now researchers are asking whether mats of cyanobacteria might themselves affect local sea temperatures, thus creating a powerful feedback loop.
Cyanobacteria are ubiquitous. They spew enough oxygen into the atmosphere to dictate the current mix of gases we breathe. They also compete—with great success—for nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. When cyanobacteria bloom, it is often at the cost of neighboring species such as fish or other phytoplankton. So if cyanobacteria are shaping the temperature of their growing patch of the ocean to favor themselves over cold-water critters, researchers want to know how they are doing it and what to expect next, says climate scientist Sebastian Sonntag of the University of Hamburg in Germany.