Trees are not the only life form that provides the planet with oxygen. Micro-sized marine life such as plankton are responsible for converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. Climate change and rising carbon emissions are threatening the ocean’s natural mechanisms to sustain life, and are leaving scientists with a race to beat the clock.

Churning In Motion

The ocean hides underneath its depths a diverse amount of life, which are responsible for regulating the climate and maintaining the biome. Although it may seem that most of the planet’s oxygen come from trees, they only provide 25 percent of life-sustaining oxygen. Phytoplankton and other marine plant life are responsible for producing an estimated 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere.

Phytoplankton bloom in the Bay of Biscay (Wikipedia)

Bacteria, diatoms, and algae utilize photosynthesis to release oxygen into the atmosphere. These creatures are the foundation of the aquatic food web and are essential to supporting life by using sunlight, carbon dioxide, and rich nutrients churned up from the sea floor by hurricanes. The complex and fragile web of life on the planet is under threat because of rising carbon emissions, warming temperatures, and ocean acidification.

Imminent Die Off Possible

The ability for microorganisms to produce enough oxygen is at risk of cessation at the end of the century, as 40 percent of plankton have perished since 1950. Warmer waters make it challenging for phytoplankton and other forms of marine life to thrive, leading to migration, adaption failures, and dead coral reefs. More extreme weather patterns and the saturation of carbon emissions by the ocean have led to the erosion of the sea floor, which has thrown off the balance of once widely-available rich nutrients.

Areas where the ocean is unable to let enough sunlight leads to disruptions in the life cycle for plankton. During the spring, the phytoplankton bloom throughout the world’s oceans and produce oxygen, taking advantage of the sunlight and nutrients available. Similar to the ebb and flow of the ocean tide, plankton and other oxygen-producers in the ocean go through a cyclical existence.

Reversing The Flow

Scientists and concerned citizens around the world are devising ways to help preserve the health of the oceans and marine life. Acidification of the seas, reduced numbers of phytoplankton, and absorption of carbon emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels have put a dent in the production of oxygen. The push for sustainable and renewable forms of energy would help reduce the damage inflicted on marine life and our planet’s fragile ecosystem.


Studies involving the planting and maintenance of kelp gardens, and reviving coral reefs and other life which can filter the ocean of carbon dioxide may help reverse the impact of human pollution. The rapidly changing pH levels of the ocean’s waters are motivating researchers and developers to act quickly to check and balance a troubled ecosystem. If the seas are healthy, phytoplankton and other marine life that filter the water can flourish and better sustain life on the planet.