Adam Martiny, associate professor of Earth system science and ecology & evolutionary biology at UC Irvine and a lead author of the publication, and his team, showed that due to fluctuating surface temperatures, the microbes digest far more carbon than previously estimated.
The study goes against one of the oldest concepts in oceanography- the Redfield ratio. In 1934, the oceanographer Alfred Redfield concluded that the ratio of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous in all plankton and materials in the ocean is constant (106:16:1) regardless of depth.
Martiny admits that the concept is still a central tenet in ocean biology and chemistry, but the study shows that latitude is much more determining for the nutrient content ration of ocean plankton, at a certain depth.
To prove this, the team sampled ocean plankton from various locations of the frigid Bering Sea, the North Atlantic near Denmark, mild Caribbean waters and other. With a cell sorter on board of the research vessel, the scientists were able to analyze their samples at the molecular level.
Redfield’s ratio is a concept that appears in all textbooks on oceanography. Although it has been questioned numerously, Martiny’s study is the first that rejects it, basing the the conclusions on real data.