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algaeA new study finds that marine algae have the capacity to adapt to hotter, more acidic waters.

Climate change is warming the world’s oceans. This has been observed in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, as warmer waters lap at the undersides of glaciers and ice shelves and cause the ice to thin and subsequently break down at an “unprecedented rate.”

When carbon and other greenhouse gases are emitted from factories, automobiles and other industrial processes, they fill the Earth’s atmosphere, trapping heat and redirecting it back to the planet. This also causes ocean acidification. About 50 percent of the planet’s carbon is absorbed by ocean waters and, as it is absorbed, the chemical composition of the seawater changes, lowering the level of calcium carbonate and increasing the level of carbonic acid.

Ocean water with a lower pH level (i.e. that is more acidic) makes it harder for shellfish to form their shells. As more shellfish die off, the creatures that eat them also suffer, affecting marine life all the way up the food chain. Some experts have predicted that the ocean could become 170 percent more acidic by the end of this century.

If global carbon emissions are not checked, this process will destroy many marine organisms.

Except a certain species of phytoplankton, Emiliania huxleyi according to a report published Sunday in Nature Climate Change. This microscopic coccolithophore has an advantage over larger creatures such as lobsters, tuna and whales: It can produce 500 generations in a year.

The evolutionary process allows creatures to adapt to their environment over time, something that takes millions of years in creatures like primates and cetaceans. But Emiliania huxleyi reproduces so quickly that it is able to adapt to warmer waters and higher acid levels in relatively no time at all.

“The observed changes in coccolithophore growth, calcite and biomass production, cell size and elemental composition demonstrate the importance of evolutionary processes for phytoplankton performance in a future ocean,” the researchers write.

So even if the world’s nations fail to limit global warming to 2°C by 2100, at least the ocean will be a healthy shade of green.

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