A team of scientists from Australia is currently digging deep in Antarctica’s seafloor to know more about the effects of climate change. They intend to find out how this affected phytoplankton, the most important producers of oxygen in the world.

The researchers decided to look into the unknown places in the unexplored Sabrina Coast sea floor. They would extract DNA samples of phytoplankton, also known as microalgae, which are said to supply half of the oxygen in the world. This would be the first time such sampling is done.

“The ancient DNA analysis is a new way of getting a complete picture of who thrived or didn’t thrive in the ocean when past climate change has happened. Phytoplankton is important for a range of reasons. It’s the base of the food web, feeding krill, fish and ultimately whales,” said researcher Linda Armbrecht from Macquarie University, abc.net.au reports. “And they’re important oxygen producers; every second breath we’re taking is because of phytoplankton.”

The exploration would take 51 days. Overall, there are 22 scientists on board the CSIRO’s Investigator research ship, including Armbrecht, the ABC reports. The researcher also explained that phytoplankton sink to the seafloor. They then get preserved, giving us an interesting glimpse into the past.

The researcher added that the microalgae is an essential indicator for climate change. They are very sensitive to changes in the environment, she adds. “Phytoplankton are very sensitive to environmental conditions. They grow very fast and react quickly to changes in temperature,” Armbrecht said. “We know now how phytoplankton react to certain temperatures and if we look at them from the past we can estimate how they’ll react in the future.

The researchers would try to understand what happened 30,000 years ago. They would study the specimens at depths reaching 2,500 meters below sea surface. “We know it’s happened but we don’t know how they phytoplankton reacted,” said the researcher. “If we know that we’ll have a better idea of what might happen in the future.”