Celebrating World Oceans Day: An Ode to Ocean Microbes

June 7, 2016

Who speaks for the microbes of the ocean? Dr. Elisha Wood-Charlson does.

"The importance of ocean microbes is pretty straightforward. If you like breathing, eating seafood, or the idea of a beautiful white sand beach, then understanding microbial processes in the oceans becomes relevant," she told Cultures Magazine in an interview for the Microbes & Climate Change Issue.

According to Dr. Wood-Charlson, the Research/Communications Program Manager for the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE), ocean microbes stand out for a variety of reasons. They represent over 90% of the ocean's biomass and therefore drive global biogeochemical cycles. They produce enough oxygen to fill your lungs every second breath you take. Prochlorococci alone produce one-fifth of the oxygen in our atmosphere. The tiny marine cyanobacteria also convert carbon dioxide into edible carbon, which is consumed by SAR11, the ocean's most abundant cellular organism.

From their post at Station ALOHA, Dr. Wood-Charlson and the SCOPE team are working to enhance our understanding of ocean microbes by modeling these microbial processes. Examining these tiny microbial interactions will help answer big questions about the carbon cycle and other critical microbial processes.

Given the important role of ocean microbes, one might guess that climate scientists are looking to them for insight into climate change. However, according to Dr. Wood-Charlson, ocean microbial processes are "not well represented in current climate models." She quoted the 2012 ASM report, Incorporating Microbial Processes into Climate Models: "In light of ongoing global change and the centrality of microbes in global biogeochemical cycles, their specific responses and activities in the context of climate change modeling can no longer be ignored."

In anticipation of World Oceans Day on Wednesday, June 8, ASM is celebrating ocean microbes and scientists like Dr. Wood-Charlson who are not only advancing our understanding of these mighty organisms, but also making sure they can continue doing their very important jobs.

Author: ASM International Affairs

ASM International Affairs
ASM International Affairs staff.