How a microscopic team alters the course of carbon in the Atlantic Ocean

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Laurence Yeung, University of California, Los Angeles

Meg Rosenburg, California Institute of Technology


The Amazon river is the largest river in the world. It drains the entire Amazon rainforest, sending leftover nutrients, detritus, and minerals from the South American jungle out into the tropical Atlantic ocean. This runoff forms a freshwater plume, hundreds of miles across, that profoundly affects the ocean underneath it. In this study, we focus on the outer edge of the plume, where a unique microbial partnership takes place: Here, a microscopic plant called a diatom teams up with a microbe called a cyanobacterium; together, they are able to grow rapidly and sequester carbon in the ocean. We measured their impact on the nutrients and gases dissolved in the ocean, and e find that the partnership is unusually efficient, sequestering carbon 2-3 times more efficiently than microbes elsewhere in the plume. By themselves, they may provide more than half the food in this region.


Yeung, L. Y., et al. (2012), Impact of diatom-diazotroph associations on carbon export in the Amazon River plume, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L18609, doi:10.1029/2012GL053356

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By the Numbers

Over 40,000 students in 50 US states, the US Virgin Islands, and 25 countries participated as judges in the 2016 Ocean 180 Video Challenge.