Emiliania huxleyi

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Emiliania huxleyi

Scientists refer to algae as “protists”, which are a group of organisms that collect energy from the sun.  Emiliania huxleyi (its scientific name) is one group of protists that is abundant in many of the world’s oceans. These single-celled organisms form plates made of calcium around themselves, similar to fish scales.

Image: A microscopic look at Emiliania huxleyi.

3D View: Emiliania huxleyi
A microscopic view of Emiliania huxleyi.

Why this species is important

Emiliania huxleyi can be found throughout many of the world’s oceans; however, it does not currently grow in the Arctic.  This type of algae can be linked to balancing the ocean’s chemistry with the Earth’s atmosphere.



Emiliania huxleyi is by far the most abundant coccolithophore found in the Earth’s oceans, and is considered ubiquitous, occurring everywhere except the Polar Regions. During massive blooms, cell concentrations can outnumber those of all other species in the region combined, accounting for 75% or more of the total number of photosynthetic plankton in the area. These blooms can be so large and reflect so much light that satellites can see them from space.

Sliding the scale from left to right, watch how one algae bloom can grow quickly and, within a 10 day period is so large, it can be viewed from space.

The image’s scale is 150km.

A large algae bloom that grows in coastal waters, in a 10 day period, and can be seen from space.
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Rapid production


Emiliania huxleyi experience rapid cell division and grow in large numbers. This algae grows into such thick large areas that these masses can be seen from outer space.


A plant paradox


Large masses of algae are referred to as “blooms” and due to their size can have a tremendous affect on the ocean’s temperatures. This type of algae uses photosynthesis to capture carbon dioxide from the ocean and atmosphere; however, the existence of these blooms releases carbon dioxide into the ocean and atmosphere causing a warming of both air and water.


A migration to Arctic waters?


Scientists are currently studying how a change in Arctic water temperatures could trigger a growth of Emiliania huxleyi blooms. This could have an effect on marine life that currently live in the region and also those that may migrate into the area in search of more food and a warmer climate.

In contrast, climate changes are also affecting the pH of the ocean. Lower pH levels could easily have a negative effect on Emiliania huxleyi, reducing numbers and global distributions. This is a great example of the global paradox about climate and environmental change.