Social media has been hard to see over the past few days without a scary-looking report from Scottish newspaper The Sunday Post. “Research from Scots team wipes out Atlantic plankton in catastrophic loss of life,” reads the breathless headline. The article claimed that a survey of plankton in the ocean found “evidence…[s] 90% has now disappeared.” The article then predicts the imminent collapse of our biosphere.
There’s only one problem: the article is rubbish.
The Sunday Post uses a preprint manuscript as its source – meaning it has not yet been reviewed – from Howard Dryden, lead author in the Global Oceanic Environmental Survey.
It can’t be denied that our oceans are in peril – the study notes in its introduction that they have lost 50 percent of all marine life over the past 70 years, and that number at a rate of about 1 percent per year. growing from. But the Post’s article goes further than the preprint, citing plankton counts collected by 13 ships with 500 data points.
Specifically, the article claimed that the survey “expects to find five visible pieces of plankton in every 10 liters of water – but on average found less than one. was kind of wiped out.”
Five hundred data points collected from 13 ships sounds impressive, but David Johns, head of the Continuing Plankton Recorder Survey, describes it as “a literal drop in the ocean”. Johns would know—the Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey has been running since 1958 and collected more than 265,000 samples.
The Continuous Plankton Survey has actually listed plankton losses over the years – but nothing close to the 90 percent loss claimed by Dryden. “We’ve seen long-term changes—movement in the form of surface water warming of plankton species north, seasonal changes in some taxa, invasions, etc.,” Johns told Ars by email. “And we work with a wide group of scientists and government bodies, providing evidence for maritime policy. As a group, we had an email discussion, and no one agreed with the report—and No one had heard of that person (other than one person, and she was not complimentary at all).”
Apart from the small sample size, the preprint makes no mention of how or when the plankton samples were collected. “If those samples were taken in surface waters during the day, zooplankton numbers are likely to be low,” Johns explained. “Too, [there is] no mention of which magnification [the researchers] were using. If you were using a low-powered microscope, you’d struggle to see the small stuff – in warm open ocean Atlantic waters, the majority of zooplankton are much smaller, and they might have trouble picking them out. “
As noted above, the paper on which Post based its article has not been reviewed, an obvious topic for Dryden. “It doesn’t seem like he really has a scientific profile — none of his work seems to be peer reviewed, which is obviously important when you’re making a bold claim,” Johns told Ars.
And Dryden is making bold claims. Although he raises the real problem of ocean acidification, he blames the problem on microplastics and not climate change atmospheric CO. due to the huge growth of2 Level. However, in this preprint, Dryden and his co-authors describe atmospheric CO. let’s identify2 as a driver of ocean acidification, which they warn will lead to the loss of 80–90 percent of all marine life by 2045.
In the early days of the pandemic, I was concerned about the credibility given by some in the media to unreviewed studies about COVID-19. Looks like we can add marine biology to that list as well.