Antarctic Plankton Reduces Greenhouse Gases

Knoxville — A University of Tennessee biologist is part of a team studying the relationship between plankton in the ocean surrounding Antarctica and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Nature magazine has published the report, which was co-written by Dr. Jacqueline Grebmeier, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Grebmeier said the report examined a phytoplankton, Phaeocystis antarctica, and its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“The Phaeocystis forms in colonies, and it turned out that it’s very important for taking up carbon dioxide and sequestering it into its body mass,” Grebmeier said.

The study was part of a project called Research on Ocean-Atmosphere Variability and Ecosystem Response in the Ross Sea, which lies along the Antarctic coast.

Grebmeier said the phytoplankton locks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and takes it to the bottom of the ocean.

Phaeocystis strips the gas from the atmosphere and buries it in the mud and sediment at the bottom of the ocean,” Grebmeier said, “where it won’t return to the atmosphere for many thousands of years.”

High levels of carbon dioxide have been linked to global warming.