Planet Magazine has published a stunning gallery of some recently discovered sea-based microorganisms. These images of the wondrously bizarre phytoplankton and zooplankton were taken by researchers aboard the Tara Oceans, a ship that only recently returned from its two-and-half-year journey.

The top image of Polychaeta a was photographed by Christian Rouviere.

The Tara Oceans expedition was an attempt to discover and chronicle these tiny organisms before many of them disappear forever. They are among the most essential life forms on the planet, and we know surprisingly little about them. And disturbingly, they are disappearing at a rate of 1% a year on account of global warming. This urgency compelled the crew of Tara Oceans to go on a multi-year journey around the globe.

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Jordan Sayle of Planet Magazine reports:

Warmer and acidified waters linked to human activities are disrupting subsurface ecosystems and turning the mission to study oceanic microorganisms into a race against time. A 2010 report in the journal Nature found that planktonic populations have declined by 40 percent since 1950. Appraising their health and numbers has significance beyond mere curiosity. As a food source, pelagic plankton constitute the foundation of the maritime food web. And as emitters of oxygen and as carbon sinks, they play a vital role in regulating the content and temperature of our atmosphere.

And a Sayle notes, there's more planned for the future:

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Be sure to check out the entire gallery over at Planet Magazine — there's a lot more.

Via Grist. All images courtesy Tara Oceans/Planet Magazine.