We consider the effect of global warming on the coupled plankton-oxygen dynamics in the ocean. The net oxygen production by phytoplankton is known to depend on the water temperature and hence can be disrupted by warming. We address this issue theoretically by considering a mathematical model of the plankton-oxygen system. The model is generic and can account for a variety of biological factors. We first show that sustainable oxygen production by phytoplankton is only possible if the net production rate is above a certain critical value. This result appears to be robust to the details of model parametrization. We then show that, once the effect of zooplankton is taken into account (which consume oxygen and feed on phytoplankton), the plankton-oxygen system can only be stable if the net oxygen production rate is within a certain intermediate range (i.e., not too low and not too high). Correspondingly, we conclude that a sufficiently large increase in the water temperature is likely to push the system out of the safe range, which may result in ocean anoxia and even a global oxygen depletion. We then generalize the model by taking into account the effect of environmental stochasticity and show that, paradoxically, the probability of oxygen depletion may decrease with an increase in the rate of global warming.
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