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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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.