Rising ocean temperatures are rearranging the biological make-up of our oceans, pushing species towards the poles by 7kms every year, as they chase the climates they can survive in, according to new research.
The study, conducted by a working group of scientists from 17 different institutions, gathered data from seven different countries and found the warming oceans are causing marine species to alter their breeding, feeding and migration patterns.
Surprisingly, land species are shifting at a rate of less than 1km a year in comparison, even though land surface temperatures are rising at a much faster rate than those in the ocean.
“In general, the air is warming faster than the ocean because the air has greater capacity to absorb temperature. So we expected to see more rapid response on land than in the ocean. But we sort of found the inverse,” said study researcher Dr Christopher Brown, post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute.
Brown said this may be because marine animals are able to move vast distances, or it could be because it’s easier to escape changing temperatures on land where there are hills and valleys, rather than on a flat ocean surface.
The team looked at a wide variety of species, from plankton and ocean plants to predators such as seals, seabirds and big fish.
“One of the unique things about this study is that we’ve looked at everything,” said Brown.
“We covered every link in the food chain and we found there were changes in marine life that were consistent with climate change across all the world’s oceans and across all those different links in the food chain.”
The warming oceans are shortening winter and bringing on spring and all the events that come with it – like breeding events and plankton blooms – earlier than normal.
For the species that can’t keep moving towards the colder waters, this could have dire consequences.
“Some species like barnacles and lots of shellfish are constrained to living on the coast, so in places like Tasmania, if they’re already at the edge of the range there’s nowhere for them to go. You could potentially lose those,” said Brown.
The scientists found that 81% of the study’s observations supported the hypothesis that climate change was behind the changes seen.
To combat this, Brown said people have to think about changing activities to adapt.
“For example, fisheries might need to move their ports to keep track of the species they prefer to catch,” he said.
“The obvious one is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which will slow or reduce the rate of warming in the oceans, but there’s a long lag time in that. Even if we reduce emissions now then those effects won’t be seen for 20 years or so.”
Leopard shark. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
(06/11/2013) Scientists have long known that ocean acidification is leading to a decline in Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) in the U.S.’s Pacific Northwest region, but a new study in the American Geophysical Union shows exactly how the change is undercutting populations of these economically-important molluscs. Caused by carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification changes the very chemistry of marine waters by lowering pH levels; this has a number consequences including decreasing the availability of calcium carbonate, which oysters and other molluscs use to build shells.
(12/03/2012) Marine snails, also known as sea butterflies, are dissolving in the Southern Seas due to anthropogenic carbon emissions, according to a new study in Nature GeoScience. Scientists have discovered that the snail’s shells are being corroded away as pH levels in the ocean drop due to carbon emissions, a phenomenon known as ocean acidification. The snails in question, Limacina helicina antarctica, play a vital role in the food chain, as prey for plankton, fish, birds, and even whales.
(11/28/2012) Arctic snowfall accumulation plays a critical role in ringed seal breeding, but may be at risk due to climate change, according to a new study in Geophysical Research Letters. Sea ice, which is disappearing at an alarming rate, provides a crucial platform for the deep snow seals need to reproduce. Ringed seals (Phoca hispida) require snow depths of at least 20 centimeters (8 inches): deep enough to form drifts that seals use as birth chambers.
(11/28/2012) Sea levels are rising 60 percent faster than Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated, according to a new study in the open access Environmental Research Letters. In addition to imperiling coastal regions and islands, global sea level rise is worsening the damage inflicted by extreme weather such as Hurricane Sandy, which recently brought catastrophic flooding to the New Jersey coast and New York City.
(11/20/2012) A new report by the World Bank paints a bleak picture of life on Earth in 80 years: global temperatures have risen by 4 degrees Celsius spurring rapidly rising sea levels and devastating droughts. Global agriculture is under constant threat; economies have been hampered; coastal cities are repeatedly flooded; coral reefs are dissolving from ocean acidification; and species worldwide are vanishing. This, according to the World Bank, is where we are headed even if all of the world’s nations meet their pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, the report also notes that with swift, aggressive action it’s still possible to ensure that global temperatures don’t rise above 4 degrees Celsius.
(11/07/2012) The Galapagos Islands have been famous for a century and a half, but
even Charles Darwin thought the archipelago’s list of living wonders
didn’t include coral reefs. It took until the 1970s before scientists
realized the islands did in fact have coral, but in 1983, the year the
first major report on Galapagos reef formation was published, they
were almost obliterated by El Niño. This summer, a major coral survey
found that some of the islands’ coral communities are showing
promising signs of recovery. Their struggle to survive may tell us
what is in store for the rest of the world, where almost
three-quarters of corals are predicted to suffer long-term damage by