What Are Phytoplankton?

Updated on July 2, 2018
unvrso profile image

Unvrso is a lover of nature and technology. He has been writing for HubPages since 2009 on various topics.

Microscopic Phytoplankton

Microscopic Phytoplankton
Microscopic Phytoplankton | Source

What Are Phytoplankton?

Phytoplankton, also known as microalgae, are microscopic biotic organisms that inhabit most bodies of water, including the oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds. They are most commonly found floating on the surface of water, as these organisms need sunlight in order to produce nutrients. These organisms convert carbon dioxide into chemical energy through photosynthesis.

These organisms, in the same way that plants do, obtain their energy from the sun through the process of photosynthesis; for these process to occur, they must live close to the surface of a body of water or the euphotic zone, where they will use sunlight and inorganic nutrients to produce proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Photosynthitic Organisms of the Aquatic World

Primary Producers in the Aquatic Web System

Phytoplankton are too small and can only be observed with a microscope but they can also be observed when they grow in huge quantities in a process known as bloom. When they do, satellite photos show them as patches of bluish or green colors in the oceans, lakes or rivers; even in ponds.

These microorganisms are the primary source of food in the aquatic food web. Every other organism, microscopic, such as zooplankton or big, including fish and whales, feed on phytoplankton. Not all phytoplankton is safe for feeding, as some can produce toxins and kill marine life, that is the case of red tides; the name with which harmful algae blooms are known.

The Flora of the Water World

Phytoplankton or microalgae are tiny organisms that drift with water currents. Like continental vegetation, phytoplankton utilizes CO2 and nutrients to a form that other animal species can use; in the process, oxygen is released. These microscopic flora-green algae-often can be seen in rivers, lakes and ponds. Cyanobacteria-blue-green algae may change the taste of water.


Phytoplankton may contribute to almost three quarters of the atmosphere's oxygen

It's believed that phytoplankton may contribute to an estimate of 50-80% of the oxygen in the earth's atmosphere. Among the most common types of cyanobacteria are green algae, silica encased diatoms, dinoflagellates and coccolithophores. Population in the ocean have rising and falling based on cycles lasting anywhere from years to decades. Rising sea surface temperatures are the main cause of this; Phytoplankton population is known to increase in Spring and fall due to an increase in light, temperature and water minerals.

Phytoplankton are a more diverse group than terrestrial vegetation where most autotrophs are plants. Phytoplankton comprises protistan eukaryotes, eubacteria and archaebacteria prokaryotes. It's been estimated that there are approximately 5,000 species of aquatic phytoplankton in the world.

Algal Bloom

Algal Bloom
Algal Bloom | Source

Importance of Phytoplankton

Microalgae are at the base of the aquatic food system. Every creature in the water system feeds on them; from microscopic zooplankton to small fish and whales. They are capable of converting the sun's energy into chemical energy that is stored as sugars. These chemical energy is then consumed by heterotrophs-those that are not able to produce their own food, such as zooplankton and most marine animals.

They produce almost half of the photosynthetic energy-that is to say they convert half of the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere into chemical energy. They help keep carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and thus reduce the greenhouse effect. It´s believed that the oceans absorbe anywhere between 30-50% of the CO2 produced by the consumption of fossil fuel.

Climate and the Carbon Cycle

Climate change is caused by the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by industry. The rate at which CO2 is absorved into the atmosphere depends on how much is emitted and the quantity that is absorved by plants and soil or is transported to the ocean by phytoplankton and sea animals. Phytoplankton uses CO2 through photosynthesis. CO2 is transported to varied layers of the ocean by other sea animals that consume phytoplanton.

Phytoplankton dynamics occurs within the first 50 meters of the ocean´s surface and varies based on the season and geographical location; this is determined by the amount of sunlight that is received and the oceean´s temperature. The lack of nutrients and minerals also determines the growth of phytoplankton. Zooplankton-the microscopic organisms that feed on phytoplankton also determine the rate of growth of phytoplankton.

Check Your Knowledge of Phytoplankton

view quiz statistics

Carbon Cycle

Carbon Cycle-Phytoplankton
Carbon Cycle-Phytoplankton | Source

Chorophil Concentrations in Phytoplankton

Satellites play an important role at monitoring phytoplankton concentrations. Microscopic phytoplankton are microscopic organisms and can not be seen without the aid of a microscope but when they bloom, they grow by the billions and due that they contain chorophyll and other pigments, they may reflect light in various eye catching colors; bluish, reddish and greenish.

All of these colors are used by scientists to calculate chlorophyl concentration and biomass of phytoplankton present at that spot in the ocean.

The Potential of Phytoplankton

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jose Juan Gutierrez

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)