Carbon in the Oceans Is Altering the microfabric of Life. Humans are feeding the invisible world of ocean microbes a punishing diet of pollutants, boosting the impact of climate change and hastening the destruction of life as we know it.
When the waters south of Miami turned Jacuzzi hot this summer, topping out at 101.1 degrees Fahrenheit in Manatee Bay, scientists agonized over the impact on parrotfish, grunts, spiny lobsters and coral reefs. But what about the invisible world of the ocean’s microbiome that we can’t see—one of bacteria, fungi, algae and viruses?
Before you say “ewww,” you should know that these tiny creatures
, which on Earth number more than stars in the universe, connect all life on our planet. Scientists have found them deep in ocean chasms, volcanic vents, glaciers, caves and mines.
They provide most of the oxygen in the atmosphere and help organisms digest food and manage their immune systems. When creatures—including people—die, microbes decompose them, releasing carbon, nitrogen and phosphates that create new life. Roughly 38 trillion bacteria live inside and on you right now. Without bacteria and all that they do, you wouldn’t stay alive for very long.
Carbon in the Oceans Is Altering the Micro-Fabric of Life
Nor will humans fare well on a planet where our indiscriminate use of fossil fuels and industrial chemicals continues to alter the delicate balance of microbes that sustain our ecosystem, into one that does not. Billions of years of evolution have shifted the Earth from a carbon-rich atmosphere to one drenched in oxygen. Over those eons, microbes mostly accomplished this terraforming by feeding on carbon and producing the oxygen we breathe as a byproduct, a process that humans seem hell-bent on reversing unless we act quickly to preserve the world of the very small by radically reducing carbon emissions and the indiscriminate use of other chemicals.
Humans are subjecting the Earth’s microbiome to the equivalent of what happens when you eat fast-food burgers and potato chips 24/7. You get a bellyache, or worse, in part because processed foods and high fructose corn syrup alter the composition of bacteria in our gut, decreasing the influence of “good” bacteria and increasing “bad” bacteria. Likewise, carbon and other pollutants alter the microbiome of Earth and undermine planetwide ecological systems that most people are only vaguely aware of.
Read more at scientificamerican.com