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goes survey of the equatorial atlantic and the next 25 years, are lipids a solution

GOES project research

PDF copy of the report available on SSRN, download

The Oceans are the true lungs of the planet, and plankton are our life support system, they are the reason why humanity can live on this planet. 8 out of 10 breaths you take will come from marine plankton.

For whatever reason I fail to understand, it was only in 2015 that the UN acknowledged the Oceans were important for climate change. Paris June 2018 UNESCO Ocean Conference closing remarks, academics are doing a wonderful job of cataloguing the destruction of the oceans. COP 26 November 2021 was the first time Oceans were on the agenda, and I was one of the first to give a presentation on Climate change in relation to marine biodiversity.

                   We need to take a precautionary approach and start to fix the problem.

The mission of GOES is to try and make a correlation between marine pollution and Oceanic productivity. We focus on Oceanic systems because when the plankton die and fall to the Abyss, the carbon is locked out of the equation. The Abyss is the carbon bank where all carbon will eventually be deposited. Few academics were doing this research, most are not aware that there may be a problem. The primary life support system for the planet and our best hope to beat climate change and there is almost zero research focusing on the subject.  The GOES team therefore decided to conduct the research as a citizen science project.

We published, an observations report for the first stage of our GOES Global Oceanic Environmental Survey.  Please note that this is just an initial observation and comment on the results obtained, there was no intention to have the document peer reviewed.

It’s important to note that our focus is oceanic water, not coastal water because once carbon sinks to the Abyss it is locked out of the equation. Oceanic plankton are therefore more important than coastal plankton with regards to carbon sequestration. The first phase covers the Equatorial Atlantic Ocean not the whole of the Atlantic.  The equatorial regions have the lowest productivity and perhaps most sensitive to pollution and from climate change. The region can also be used as an early warning indicator about what could happen in other sectors.

The protocol was developed over a 3-year period of trials, details on our website, and I include a link below.  We plan to continue sampling for two to three more years and hope to have over 100 sailing vessels sampling in all oceans. Once the data has been collated and analysed, we will seek publication.

The GOES project has been compared with the Continuous Plankton Recorder CPR team from Plymouth. The CPR currently do not cover the Equatorial Atlantic, the micron rating of the CPR sampler is 270um, so the measurements are semi quantitative for anything smaller than the mesh size, such as; phytoplankton, microplankton, microplastic or black carbon pollutants. The entry orifice is only 12.5mm so some zooplankton will actively avoid collection. From, Dippner Journal of Marine Science, the CPR underestimates the abundance of zooplankton by a factor 25. This has serious implications for estimation of biomass as well as for modelling ecosystem dynamics.

The GOES sampler uses a small sample volume of water, but 100% of the water is filtered down to 20um, and is quantitative for this size range and above. That means that all the particles larger than 20um are counted and it is essentially 100% accurate. The two exceptions, are 1; if the concentration of plankton are less than 1 per litre, multiple samples will be required. 2; Large plankton above 2mm in size might be able to avoid the 50mm diameter sample tube.


Our research has shown the following.

  1. zooplankton, phytoplankton numbers larger than 20um to be less than 1 in 10 litres of water as stated in the report. This corresponds to more than 90% reduction from the expected value.
  2. Microplastic fibres range from 1 to 10 particles per litre, usually within 300nm of land
  3. Sargassum pelagic weed is depleting nutrients such as phosphate that would otherwise be used by marine phytoplankton.
  4. The total particle count above 20um was between 100 and 1000 particles per litre, we only expected to find around 20 particles, so 1000 came as a shock. From the appearance of the particles, they would appear to be PCC, the partially combusted products from the burning of fossil fuels. It is also likely that the particles will be distributed throughout the whole of the Atlantic

The photo shows the content of 100ml of water filtered to 20um taken off the surface from the centre of the Atlantic Ocean

The PCC particles carry polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals which will be toxic to both zooplankton and phytoplankton. Some of the carbon is from the burning of 300 million tonnes a year of bunker fuel oil by the shipping industry. We know that around 60,000 tonnes ( 0.2g/kg oil) end up being discharged by the flue scrubbers back into oceanic surface water, this is around 2% of all particulate carbon, so around 3 million tonnes may end up in the Oceans every year.  This will also be happening all Oceans, so it will be having a growing impact on marine productivity. Atmospheric fallout of Black Carbon is responsible for 25% of snow and ice melt in the Arctic, where concentrations can be as high as 10,000 particles per kg of snow and ice.

The small particles of carbon will float and become colloidal, given that they are hydrophobic they will also adsorb and concentrate toxic lipophilic chemicals such as PCBs, PFOS, PFAS PBDE and many POPs, so these particles are the delivery mechanism for many of the most toxic of chemicals in the Ocean.   This is why we end up in situations with the death of cetaceans such as LuLu in Scotland.

This is why whales washing up on the shores of the USA have 50 times higher levels of metals and toxic chemicals than would cause neurological damage in humans,

download report

and why Beluga in the St Lawrence have dropped from 5000 to 500 in recent years.

download report

 It all starts with particles and the plankton which are not detected by most plankton nets.

It is very difficult for Citizen Science projects to gain recognition irrespective of the knowledge and expertise of the team, especially if the report is not peer reviewed.  In this case the report was an observation think piece it was never intended to be peer reviewed; the purpose was to stimulate discussion and debate.  We stated 90% reduction for the Equatorial Atlantic and 50% reduction for the rest of the Atlantic from peer reviewed reports'

40% decline of phytoplankton

50% decline of krill N Atlantic 60 year study download Nature report

50% decline of zooplankton and phytoplankton 60 year study, download report

NASA video on satellite images about declining plankton concentrations are also ignored.  

Regime shifts, this is really scary, may be due to North Atlantic Oscillation or copepod zooplankton collapse by 50% that happened at the same time.  download report

The mission of the GOES team is to test if there is a correlation between marine pollution and plankton productivity and how it impacts on climate change.  Our work in the Equatorial Atlantic has made this connection and that the rest of the Atlantic Ocean may also be in danger. This will of course require verification.  It is an early warning or an alarm bell, because by the time productivity starts to decline due to pollution in the Northern and Southern Atlantic Ocean, it may be too late to be stopped or recovered, and then humanity is in trouble.  Peer reviewed report shows that there has been a 50% decline in marine productivity since the 1950’s, others say 10% to 20%.  It is irrelevant, we haven’t yet reached the point when the system starts to collapse, but I fear that we are close.

Why are plankton important for climate change?

Plankton are the root of the the food chain and life support system for the planet. When the final regime shift takes place due to Ocean Acidification,  we may lose all the whales, seals birds and fish, and with them the food supply for 3 billion people.  Dinoflagellates and HABs hazardous Algae Blooms will be the norm, the oceans and the atmosphere may become toxic.

1. Marine phytoplankton produce produce up to 80% of our Oxygen and remove the same percentage of carbon dioxide. Smithsonian,Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

2. Marine phytoplankton produce omega 3 oils and lipids that form a film on the water surface and slow down evaporation of water.  Carbon dioxide, Methane are only 25% of the Greenhouse Gases, water vapour is by far the most important at 75%, and it is controlled by marine plankton and the lipid layer as well as temperature.

3. Marine phytoplankton produce DMS dimethyl sulphide that seeds cloud formation

4. Marine plankton and bits of the plankton  get carried up into the upper atmosphere and seed cloud formation.

5. The Oceans are the final carbon bank where most of the carbon will eventually be deposited

Note on GHG

The world is focused on controlling climate change by trying to reduce carbon dioxide GHG, by reducing CO2 you lower the temperature and reduce evaporation from the oceans and thereby reduce water vapour. The problem is that atmospheric CO2 levels are not being reduced, and temperature keeps increasing which increases evaporation which increases water vapour.  You are now into a self reinforcing feedback loop that we may not be able to stop since water vapour represents 75% of all greenhouse gases.

At GOES we believe that you can control atmospheric water vapour pressure independently of CO2. Water vapour pressure is regulated by marine phytoplankton species such as Diatoms and Coccolithophores that produce Omega 3 oils and lipids. The lipids form a molecular thick layer on the ocean surface to slow down evaporation. There has been almost zero research in this area, but we know that it will have a major impact from other studies  Urban Water Alliance.  

A monolayer of phytoplankton lipids could slow down evaporation by as much as 40%.  Unfortunately Ocean Acidification will take out the carbonate based and silicon phytoplankton first, and they are the best producers of lipids.  We have already seen a 50% decline in primary productivity by phytoplankton which means a 50% reduction of the lipid blanket.

If we allow ocean pollution and acidification to continue there will be a regime shift of phytoplankton, then it may not be possible to control climate change, even when we become carbon neutral.

It has not been quantified and GOES may be the first to raise this issue.


The next 25 years

We state that a 90% reduction in plankton productivity might be expected by 2045 in the GOES report,

 this is a prediction based on peer reviewed data from the IPCC such as the BIOACID report and others. From the IPCC they state oceanic pH in the 1940’s was 8.17 at the reference point, it is now 8.03 and by 2045 under RCP8.5 it will be pH7.95, see the graph below.  A very high percentage of marine life are composed of magnesium calcite and aragonite, forms of carbonate which will have completely dissolve by the time the pH reaches 7.95, or the organisms will be under serious stress and predisposed to climate change or infection.  Such a change will result in a regime shift of plankton biodiversity, loss of habitats and keystone species. The consequences are difficult to predict but there could be a trophic cascade collapse of the entire marine ecosystem, or a rapid decline as we have seen in the Marmaris Sea and Mediterranean. Make no mistake,  this is going to happen,  there is no adaptation to dissolving.


Joining the dots from IPCC data and IPEN reports by GOES

from the IPEN report

IPCC data


We have seen the cascade collapses happen on many occasions in marine public aquaria. Over the last 30 years I have been involved with the design of some of the world’s largest marine public aquaria life support systems. The aquaria in some respects are a perfect proxy for the marine ecosystem. By way of example, Sea Bass have no problem with pH7.95, however their larvae are sensitive to Noda virus infection at pH 7.95 and don’t survive. This knowledge allowed us to keep the last remaining seabass hatchery running in Greece and it saved the industry for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Pollution in plankton needs addressed:

Marine pollution will slow down primary productivity we know that it is an issue from recent reports such as the Multi National Report on Marine Pollution,

The report states that 80% of the plankton from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic now contain PFCAs, a subset of PFOS and PFAS from the manufacture of Teflon. Given the higher level of pollution in the Atlantic and higher concentration of particulate transport substrates, I would not be surprised if 99.99% of plankton samples from the Atlantic will contain plastic.

We now have a situation, where pollution is everywhere, in all environments and all living organisms and it is only set to increase over the coming years. Plastic leachates impair growth and oxygen production in Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria. 

This organism is the most numerous plant on the planet and is responsible for anything between 10% and 30% of all our oxygen and carbon dioxide fixation, and plastic reduces its ability to grow and reproduce. We only discovered its existence in 1985, because it only measures 0.6 um, and most Oceanographic surveys use much larger mesh sizes. Perhaps for the same reason the high concentration of PCC has been missed because most plankton nets will not capture the particles.

The reduction in phytoplankton productivity will allow carbon dioxide (carbonic acid) to increase unrestrained, and oceanic pH will decline at a faster rate than predicted by the IPCC under RCP 8.5.  Oceanic pH will decline, especially in the most productive Southern Ocean because of the lower alkalinity. Based on the available data, our prediction is that Southern Ocean could collapse over the next 15 years.  Dead zone that now cover 25% of the Southern Ocean are spreading, it has been said that it is due to Ferric depletion, however we believe Ferric depletion is just a symptom, it’s not the cause.  If the Southern Ocean collapses, then the Atlantic and Pacific could also experience a cascade reaction.  Irrespective of the reason responsible for the spread of the HNLC dead zone, this will happen over the next 25 years due to the rate of change with alkalinity.

Sir James Bevan (head of the Environment Agency in England) said in a speech a few weeks ago that the biodiversity crisis poses an existential threat to human survival.

The GOES team have rung the alarm bell for plankton and marine life in the Oceans. They are the life support system for the planet, by our reading and joining the dots from peer reviewed reports we have given the timetable. From the Equatorial Atlantic Research, we are starting to provide the evidence.

If the warning signs are not taken seriously and acted upon, then in the words of Sir James Bevan, we are facing an existential threat to our survive, not at some point in the distant future, but over the next 15 to 30 years unless we act upon the issue and start to eliminate pollution, form the shipping industry, and sources on land such as municipal wastewater treatment.  This was flagged at the recent UN conference on the Oceans in Lisbon June 2022, the opening statement, 80% of the world has no effluent treatment.

We can choose to ignore the warning signs, we can choose to ignore the level of pollution entering the oceans and the death of whales and massive reduction of plankton from pollution or we can face up to what is happening and deal with the issues, discuss and debate the problems, but then act upon what we know.

As a matter of urgency we have to depart from carbon tunnel vision and take a precautionary approach, we will never have all the data, we will never understand 100% of a problem, but we know enough to understand that toxic for ever chemicals combined with microplastics and black carbon are killing the oceans, killing the planet, and killing humanity.


s/v COPEPOD  in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean

our location follow the link 

Life on earth depends upon healthy Oceans, we have 10 years to stop toxic chemical pollution, or life on earth may become impossible

Dr. Howard Dryden, CSO

Goes Foundation

Roslin Innovation Centre
The University of Edinburgh
Easter Bush Campus
Midlothian EH25 9RG