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Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2011 Aug;85(2):303-8. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.2011.11-0181.

Warming oceans, phytoplankton, and river discharge: implications for cholera outbreaks.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA.

Erratum in

  • Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2011 Sep;85(3):582.


Phytoplankton abundance is inversely related to sea surface temperature (SST). However, a positive relationship is observed between SST and phytoplankton abundance in coastal waters of Bay of Bengal. This has led to an assertion that in a warming climate, rise in SST may increase phytoplankton blooms and, therefore, cholera outbreaks. Here, we explain why a positive SST-phytoplankton relationship exists in the Bay of Bengal and the implications of such a relationship on cholera dynamics. We found clear evidence of two independent physical drivers for phytoplankton abundance. The first one is the widely accepted phytoplankton blooming produced by the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich deep ocean waters. The second, which explains the Bay of Bengal findings, is coastal phytoplankton blooming during high river discharges with terrestrial nutrients. Causal mechanisms should be understood when associating SST with phytoplankton and subsequent cholera outbreaks in regions where freshwater discharge are a predominant mechanism for phytoplankton production.

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