Scientists from the Tara Ocean expedition unveil the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of the world's ocean plankton, the tiny organisms that serve as food for marine creatures such as the blue whale, but also provide half the oxygen we breathe. Joel Flynn reports.
They're some of the smallest animals in the world. But plankton's role not just in the ocean but the entire earth's ecosystem is much larger than we realise. That's according to research from scientists who have spent the last four years studying the creatures. And all from the decks of one boat called Tara. Romain Trouble is executive director of the expedition. SOUNDBITE: Tara Oceans Expedition Executive Director, Romain Trouble, saying (English): "The mission has been run on this vessel over many oceans. Over the four years of this program the boat welcomed on board about 200 scientists from 45 countries spending their time on board to sample the very microscopic life under the ocean, the plankton." Plankton is known widely as the food stuff of whales. But it can also use photosynthesis to make oxygen. That means the billions of microscopic creatures floating round in the ocean - many known as diatoms - are helping make our atmosphere. Chris Bowler is a scientific coordinator at Tara Oceans. SOUNDBITE: Scientific Coordinator Of Tara Oceans, Chris Bowler, saying (English): "Close to half of the oxygen generated by the oceans we believe comes directly from diatoms, so that basically means every fifth time that you breathe you're breathing oxygen which we can directly trace back to diatoms, so they're sort of as important as a tropical rain forest in terms of their global contribution." The research into plankton's role on our planet also focussed on pollution - and how they're responding to man's effects on the ocean. SOUNDBITE: Tara Oceans Expedition Executive Director, Romain Trouble, saying (English): "Since we really want to emphasize the role of the ocean in the climate machine, we believe that the ocean is also the main driver of the climate change, the main mitigator in the way that the ocean and the life in the ocean is storing carbon dioxide, storing heat, and this machinery works because the ocean is in good health." Countries across the world are gearing up for a climate conference in Paris in December. If this research continues to gather attention, plankton might be one thing on the table no one expected to see.