May 4 (UPI) -- A study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports reveals that global warming is fueling a destructive algal bloom that is disrupting fisheries in the Arabian Sea.
Using decades of NASA satellite imagery, researchers at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory linked melting glaciers to the rise of the harmful algae Noctiluca, or sea sparkle, in the waterway.
"Most studies related to climate change and ocean biology are focused on the polar and temperate waters, and changes in the tropics are going largely unnoticed," Joaquim Goes, a researcher at the observatory, said in a statement.
Cold winter monsoon winds blowing from the Himalayas usually cool the Arabian Sea's surface, which results in the cold waters sinking and being replaced by nutrient-rich waters below. This process, called convective mixing, allows marine algae called phytoplankton, which provides food for a wide range of sea creatures, to flourish from the nutrient-rich waters lit by the sun.
However, melting glaciers over the Himalyan-Tibetan Plateau region have made the winds blowing to the oceans surface warmer and moister, decreasing convective mixing. This change hurts the phytoplankton, but not the Noctiluca because unlike the phytoplankton, it doesn't need sunlight.
The ability of Noctiluca to flourish amid the shrinking snowcaps has been disrupting marine life in the Arabian Sea since the late 1990s, the study found. Only jellyfish and salps find the Noctiluca edible.
In Oman, desalination plants, oil refineries and natural gas plants have scaled back operations because of the disruption from Notciluca blooms and jellyfish that swarm to eat them. Researchers said that the disruption in the food chain may have also resulted in a rise in piracy in Yemen and Somalia.
"This is probably one of the most dramatic changes that we have seen that's related to climate change," Goes said.