The Fyre Festival documentaries of the future will likely have a different hue in the background of all of those extravagant video clips. People across the globe will witness the numerous environmental differences that climate change will cause, but perhaps none will be as visually striking as the one that turned up in the findings of a new study. The ocean's colors will change because of climate change, according to a study out of MIT.
Instagrammers hoping for something dramatically different — like purples waves or orange bays — will be disappointed, because the change will basically make the ocean's blues bluer and its greens greener, according to CNN. The color of the ocean's surface comes from the way that light reflects off of the water molecules and the organisms in the water, though, so this color change will actually only be the visual signifier of a much bigger change going on in the water.
The organisms that are primarily responsible for giving the ocean its color are called phytoplankton, as WBUR wrote. When there are more phytoplankton, they absorb sunlight and make the water look greener — and when there are less, the water looks bluer. This seemingly surface-level change actually has a big effect on the ocean's ecosystem, however.
"The change is not a good thing, since it will definitely impact the rest of the food web," Stephanie Dutkiewicz, one of the study's co-authors and principal research scientist at MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, told CNN. "Phytoplankton are at the base, and if the base changes, it endangers everything else along the food web, going far enough to the polar bears or tuna or just about anything that you want to eat or love to see in pictures."
Basically, climate change will drive increased phytoplankton growth in the places where it already grows a lot, making those areas even greener. And on the other side, the areas where the water is already quite blue because of a smaller phytoplankton population will get bluer, because there will be less phytoplankton, as Phys.Org explained.
It's important to follow phytoplankton, because it absorbs a lot of sunlight and pulls a lot of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which in turn helps keep the climate cooler, as NASA explained. Witnessing changes in the amount of phytoplankton in different places across the globe can thus provide important information about the state of the environment. And because it makes up the basis of the food chain, significant changes in the phytoplankton population can cause significant damage to the animals that are higher up.
"The model suggests the changes won't appear huge to the naked eye, and the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and poles," Dutkiewicz said, according to Phys.org. "That basic pattern will still be there. But it'll be enough different that it will affect the rest of the food web that phytoplankton supports."
So actually the difference in ocean color won't affect your Instagram all that much, unless you're trying to document the disappearing marine animal populations.