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Can Plankton Ferry Carbon to the Bottom of the Ocean?

Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council begins three teeny experiments.

Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Scientists at England’s University of Exeter believe that masses of drifting crustaceans “may help to store enormous amounts of carbon in the ocean,” at once sucking CO2 from the atmosphere and slowing climate change, the BBC reports. Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council has funded three projects to investigate the idea that the small, H.R. Giger-looking creatures, known as copepods or zooplankton, can absorb significant amounts of carbon.

“Don’t be fooled by their size,” said University of Exeter professor Daniel Mayor. “These tiny but mighty life forms play a crucial role in regulating Earth’s climate by moving carbon out of the atmosphere and shunting it down into the deep ocean where it says for hundreds of years or more.” Dr Adrian Martin, of England’s National Oceanography Center, added, “The need to understand how the ocean stores carbon has never been stronger and we know that marine life plays an important role.”

The forthcoming research recalls the work of Running Tide, a Maine start-up that hopes to use kelp to similar ends. As Heatmap’s Robinson Meyer wrote in The Atlantic last year, kelp “absorbs a huge amount of carbon through photosynthesis. [It] could then be harvested, disposed of, or allowed to naturally drift to the bottom of the ocean.” Along with an array of other possible techniques, it seems that the ocean — and the living things within it — could play a key role in the fight against climate change.


Jacob Lambert

Jacob is Heatmap's founding multimedia editor. Before joining Heatmap, he was The Week's digital art director and an associate editor at MAD magazine. Read More

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Heatmap Illustration/Quilt

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