Phytoplankton: How Too Much of a Good Thing Causes Problems

Phytoplankton produce a majority of the Earth's oxygen but can also harm ecosystems in large amounts. What makes this plant good and bad?


Phytoplankton are microscopic plants floating around in marine and aquatic ecosystems that produce 50-80% of the world’s oxygen, provide food for countless other organisms, and are so effective at absorbing carbon dioxide that some have suggested growing phytoplankton as a solution to climate change. But sometimes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Agricultural runoff containing fertilizer and animal waste can create massive blooms of phytoplankton, which can have devastating effects on ecosystems, harm human health, and put a strain on the economy. Today, we explore the good and bad of phytoplankton, how climate change plays into this conversation, and where we go from here. With special guest Dr. Ajit Subramaniam: Lamont Research Professor of Biology and Paleo Environment at Columbia University.

The Sweaty Penguin is presented by Peril and Promise: a public media initiative from The WNET Group in New York, reporting on the issues and solutions around climate change. You can learn more at

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Writers: Ysabel Wulfing, Maddy Schmidt, Ethan Brown

Fact Checker: Owen Reith

Editor: Trevor Snow

Producers: Ethan Brown, Megan Crimmins, Shannon Damiano, Maddy Schmidt

Ad Voiceover: Sabrina Rollings

Music: Brett Sawka

The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the host and guests. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Peril and Promise or The WNET Group.



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The Sweaty Penguin
The Sweaty Penguin is a digital news source and podcast aiming to make environmental issues less overwhelming and politicized and more accessible and fun.


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