The tiny creatures that power our world
LIFE in the oceans, clouds – and even the petrol in your car – depend on an unseen world under the waves, says a leading city scientist.
Now climate change is threatening the delicate balance of microscopic plankton that swarm in every drop of seawater, says Dr Richard Kirby.
The Plymouth University scientist has opened a door on the world of plankton for schoolchildren around the country by making a film about these remarkable creatures.
Dr Kirby has sent out copies of his DVD 'Ocean Drifters' to 7,000 secondary schools.
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The DVD, which follows his book with the same title, is narrated by David Attenborough.
"I sent out the DVDs to teach them about a world they have very little experience of," Dr Kirby said.
"It influences our lives in ways most people never imagine. Without plankton, which are the base of the food chain, there would be no life in the seas – no sharks, no seals, no polar bears. There wouldn't be seabirds in the skies."
Even the smell that we all love about the seaside comes from plankton: it is the scent that they give off as they die and decay.
"If you ask about the oxygen in the air we breathe, people's normal response is that the rainforests are the 'lungs of the Earth'," Dr Kirby said. "But that's only half the story. The other half is produced by plankton."
And plankton are responsible – in part – for forming clouds. The same chemicals that cause the seaside smell also form nuclei for water vapour to condense around.
Without the plankton that floated in the oceans millions of years ago, today's internal combustion engine would be left running on empty, Dr Kirby said. The tiny bodies of countless billions of plankton have decomposed over the millennia and produced oil reserves.
Dr Kirby said rising sea temperatures were altering the abundance, distribution, and seasonality of the plankton, which would have a knock-on effect for the marine food chain, commercial fisheries, and even the ecology of the planet.
The production of Ocean Drifters was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and Carl Zeiss Ltd and its distribution on DVD to secondary schools was made possible by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers.
Using remarkable imagery, Ocean Drifters reveals how the plankton have shaped life on Earth and influence our lives in ways that most of us never imagine.
The film 'Ocean Drifters' is being shown at Royal William Yard on the evening of September 15 as part of the Marine City Festival.
Ocean Drifters, A secret world beneath the waves. Find out more at www.oceandrifters.org. The book that accompanies the film – with 150 colour images – is available from http://studiocactusbooks.com