(continued from previous) As the sun began to set over a lonely Atlantic, the endless phytoplankton carpet slowly began to glow: first in orange, then in pink and deep purple hues. As surreal as this image was, it was possibly a vision of the ‘new normality’ of the ocean for the next few million years. Could this be Earth in the future? Could this become permanent?
The wilted phytoplankton was now entering a spectacular death spiral. Its cellular structures fast decomposing, it was turning into an amorphous, thick brown curd that had begun to form sticky clumps. The slimy substance occasionally mixed in with foam brought in by the waves, trapping the air and forming fairly stable superstructures that floated on the surface. They were quite grotesque: opaque brown bubbles clumped together in small mounds littering the ocean as far as the eye could see. It wasn’t a good look.
But someone would appreciate all of this. The dehydrating slime slowly began to get heavier and heavier, and as it did, it started to slowly sink. An olive-green snowstorm of phytoplankton flakes rained down into the dark depths, reaching all the way into the abyss. Up on the surface, the wind had begun to pick up. It was slowly breaking up the dead carpet into smaller pieces, isolating them then flinging them towards each other in tiny collisions that further destabilised them. It would take many weeks until everything had cleared up, and the ocean returned to a more familiar appearance.
But everything in nature has an impact, and a purpose. Every cause has an effect, and vice versa. The phytoplankton bloom was only an effect, a symptom of an already heavily disturbed ecosystem. It was just one of the manifestations in a long chain reaction of disturbances that were taking their time to reverberate. As the olive-green flakes sunk to the bottom, they took with them a well-kept secret: a series of DNA mutations which were an unavoidable result of the frenzy of cell division that the phytoplankton had gone through in the past months. This story was far from over.
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books