These microscopic phytoplankton can be seen from space. And they're disappearing rapidly.

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Man, oxygen is so cool. It lets me breath, it keeps my heart and lungs healthy, who do I have to thank for this stuff?"

Well the answer to that is simple. Oxygen is produced by photosynthesis, which is why trees and plants get a lot of their due credit here on land.

But wait ... there's more!


Fresh oxygen! Get your fresh hot oxygen here! Photo by Alberto Restifo/Unsplash.

Phytoplankton are the unsung heroes of all that delicious O2 we breathe.

Phytoplankton are mostly invisible to the naked eye and live in the ocean's surface. Just like trees and plants, these one-celled creatures soak up energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into nutrients. The byproduct of that process is fresh oxygen, which is released into the water.

Scientists estimate that phytoplankton actually produce about half the world's oxygen.

A phytoplankton cloud surrounding the Florida Keys. Photo by NASA/AFP/Getty Images.

But, unfortunately, phytoplankton might be in some serious trouble.

A new study has revealed that phytoplankton populations in the Indian Ocean have decreased up to 30% over the last 16 years. Which is a big problem for those of us who enjoy breathing.

What's to blame for the plummet of the phytoplankton population?

According to the researchers, warming of the ocean's surface has led to a decline in ocean mixing — which is the process by which nutrients are carried from the ocean depths up to the surface. Phytoplankton die off when their access to these nutrients is restricted.

Because phytoplankton are a key part of a very complicated oceanic food web, the implications of their demise could be disastrous.


This NASA map from 1998 is a scan of plant life all over the Earth. The neon green areas in the oceans show where phytoplankton can be found. AFP/AFP/Getty Images.

“If you reduce the bottom of the food chain, it’s going to cascade,” Raghu Murtugudde, an oceanographer at the University of Maryland in College Park told Science News.

When one part of an ecosystem disappears, the whole thing is in danger of collapsing. Murtugudde added that the decrease in phytoplankton may be partly responsible for tuna catch rates declining by up to 90% in the Indian Ocean over the last five decades.

The Indian Ocean has been steadily warming for years, taking a serious toll on the marine ecosystem.

The Indian ocean has become the place that absorbs the most excess heat generated by increasing greenhouse gases, according to a study conducted by climate scientists in India.

That study also shows that, currently, the Indian Ocean is projected to keep warming, while phytoplankton populations continue declining. This warm water has the potential to be carried to other oceans where it will have dramatic and lasting effects.

"If this warm blob of water in upper Indian Ocean is transported all the way to North Atlantic, that could affect the melting of Arctic sea ice," Sang-Ki Lee, a scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies told The Guardian. "That can also increase hurricane activity and influence the effects of drought in the US."

A satellite photo composite showing multiple cyclones forming over the Indian Ocean in 2003. Photo by Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Rapid Response Team/NASA/GSFC/Getty Images.

This problem might seem far away, but it actually hits extremely close to home.

Just because the decrease of phytoplankton is happening in an ocean in a different hemisphere doesn't mean people in America aren't affected by it.

It's also easy to forget sometimes that we human beings are an integral part of the world's ecosystems. Phytoplankton might be microscopic, but they play a huge role in our ability to live.

Not only do phytoplankton produce the oxygen we breath, they're also a food source for the fish we eat and a key part of the marine ecosystem that keeps our oceans thriving.

#savetheplankton. Photo by HO/AFP/Getty Images.

The Indian Ocean is now a case study for the oceanic effects of global warming, Murtugudde says. "[It] must thus be monitored closely for clues about the response of the marine ecosystems in the rest of the world oceans.”

We're all a part of the same planet. And that's not just a tree-hugging hippie slogan. It's a literal truth. We are affected by and connected to every living thing around us. Even a microscopic organism on the other side of the world.

Photo via NOAA MESA Project/Wikimedia Commons.

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Women around the world are constantly bombarded by traditional and outdated societal expectations when it comes to how they live their lives: meet a man, get married, buy a home, have kids.

Many of these pressures often come from within their own families and friend circles, which can be a source of tension and disconnect in their lives.

Global skincare brand SK-II created a new campaign exploring these expectations from the perspective of four women in four different countries whose timelines vary dramatically from what their mothers, grandmothers, or close friends envision for them.

SK-II had Katie Couric meet with these women and their loved ones to discuss the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations.

SK-II

"What happens when dreams clash with expectations? We're all supposed to hit certain milestones: a degree, marriage, a family," Couric said before diving into conversation with the "young women who are defining their own lives while navigating the expectations of the ones who love them most."

Maluca, a musician in New York, explains that she comes from an immigrant family, which comes with the expectation that she should live the "American Dream."

"You come here, go to school, you get married, buy a house, have kids," she said.

Her mother, who herself achieved the "American Dream" with hard work and dedication when she came to the United States, wants to see her daughter living a stable life.

"I'd love for her to be married and I'd love her to have a big wedding," she said.

Chun Xia, an award-winning Chinese actress who's outspoken about empowering other young women in China, said people question her marital status regularly.

"I'm always asked, 'Don't you want to get married? Don't you want to start a family and have kids like you should at your age?' But the truth is I really don't want to at this point. I am not ready yet," she said.

In South Korea, Nara, a queer-identifying artist, believes her generation should have a choice in everything they do, but her mother has a different plan in mind.

SK-II

"I just thought she would have a job and meet a man to get married in her early 30s," Nara's mom said.

But Nara hopes she can one day marry her girlfriend, even though it's currently illegal in her country.

Her mother, however, still envisions a different life for her daughter. "Deep in my heart, I hope she will change her mind one day," she said.

Maina, a 27-year-old Japanese woman, explains that in her home country, those who aren't married by the time they're 25 to 30, are often referred to as "unsold goods."

Her mom is worried about her daughter not being able to find a boyfriend because she isn't "conventional."

"I really want her to find the right man and get married, to be seen as marriage material," she said.

After interviewing the women and their families, Couric helped them explore a visual representation of their timelines, which showcased the paths each woman sees her life going in contrast with what her relatives envision.

SK-II

"For each young woman, two timelines were created. One represents the expectations. The other, their aspirations," Couric explained. "There's often a disconnect between dreams and expectations. But could seeing the difference lead to greater understanding?"

The women all explored their timelines, which included milestones like having "cute babies," going back to school, not being limited by age, and pursuing dreams.

By seeing their differences side-by-side, the women and their families were able to partake in more open dialogue regarding the expectations they each held.

One of the women's mom's realized her daughter was lucky to be born during a time when she has the freedom to make non-traditional choices.

SK-II

"It looks like she was born in the right time to be free and confident in what she wants to do," she said.

"There's a new generation of women writing their own rules, saying, 'we want to do things our way,' and that can be hard," Couric explained.

The video ends with the tagline: "Forge your own path and choose the life you want; Draw your own timeline."

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