(CNN)—The ocean will not look the same color in the future. It won’t turn pink or anything radically different; the change will be more apparent through optic sensors than though the human eye. But it serves as anearly warning sign that global warming is significantly altering the planet’s ecosystems, according to a new study.
Essentially, climate change will make the blues of the ocean bluer and the greens greener. Scientists figured this out by creating a global model that simulates the growth of a tiny creature that lives in the oceans and affects the color we see. Their research was published Monday in the journal Nature Communications.
The ocean looks blue or green to us because of a combination of how sunlight interacts with water molecules and with whatever else lives in that water.
The molecules in water absorb all but the blue part of the spectrum of sunlight, and the water reflects that blue color back. That’s the color we see.
The water looks greener when it has morephytoplankton, tiny, microscopic organisms that, like plants, can use chlorophyll to capture mostly the blue portions of the spectrum of sunlight. They then use photosynthesis to create the chemical energy they need to live. When there are more of these creatures in the water absorbing sunlight, they make the water look greener. Conversely, if there are fewer phytoplankton, the water looks bluer.
The creatures’ growth is dependent on how much sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrients are around. Climate change is altering the ocean currents, meaning there will be fewer nutrients for phytoplankton to feed on in some areas, so there will be a decline in their number in those regions.