Context: A study of a microscopic ancient marine algae (Coccolithophores) led by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) has found that there is a decrease in the concentration of oceanic calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the Southern Indian ocean. 

What the study revealed?

  • This decrease in CaCO3 is attributed to the increase in the concentration of another single-celled algae known as diatoms
  • This, in turn, will affect the growth and skeleton structure of coccolithophores, with potential significance for the world ocean ecosystem.
  • The scientists also analyzed the maximum coccolithophore diversity during mid-summer in the Subtropical Zone (STZ - located roughly between tropics) and Sub-Antarctic Zone (SAZ - roughly between 46 - 60 south of equator).
    • The same is controlled by elevated silicate, low temperature, and low salinity conditions.
  • The results of the study point to climate change as a major reason for the altered coccolithophore calcification rate. 
    • Calcification is the process by which corals produce calcium carbonate (CaCO3).
  • Different environmental factors and the ability of the species to adapt to those environmental changes would ultimately determine the future coccolithophore calcite production. 
  • Significance: These investigations are important for future intervention to bring positive changes in the marine ecosystem and global carbon cycle.

About Coccolithophores and its importance:

  • Coccolithophores are single-celled algae living in the upper layers of the world's oceans. 
  • They have been playing a key role in marine ecosystems and the global carbon cycle for millions of years. 
  • Coccolithophores calcify marine phytoplankton that produce up to 40% of open ocean calcium carbonate and are responsible for 20% of the global net marine primary productivity.
  • Coccolithophores build exoskeletons from individual CaCO3 plates consisting of chalk and seashells building the tiny plates on their exterior. 
  • Absorbing more carbon dioxide than they produce
    • Though carbon dioxide is produced during the formation of these plates, coccolithophores help in removing it from the atmosphere and ocean by consuming it during photosynthesis. 
    • At equilibrium, coccolithophores absorb more carbon dioxide than they produce, which is beneficial for the ocean ecosystem.

National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR)

  • NCPOR was established in 1998, as an autonomous Research and Development Institution of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India.
  • Earlier known as National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), it is India’s premier R&D institution responsible for the country’s research activities in the Polar and Southern Ocean realms.
  • It is the nodal agency for planning, promotion, coordination and execution of the entire gamut of polar and southern ocean scientific research in the country.

Image Source: PIB