The global effects of climate change are not limited to an increase in land surface temperature – they will also result in the warming of the oceans. The oceans are fundamental for the climatic equilibrium of the Earth as they are responsible for the absorption of approximately 25% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted as a result of anthropogenic activity.
However, with concentrations of atmospheric CO2 reaching record levels of over 400ppm this past year, it is becoming very apparent that the ability of the oceans to absorb sufficient levels of atmospheric CO2 is beginning to decrease.
Potentially irreversible structural change for marine life
According to a new study published this week in scientific journal Nature Climate Change, an increase in temperature above the 2°C threshold will result in a potentially irreversible structural change for marine life, one which hasn’t been observed in the past three million years.
While the loss of species diversity would be a tragedy in itself, the warming water will also have a direct impact on human life. Many of the most commonly fished species will disappear as their environment becomes inhospitable, leading to a significant decrease in the availability of fish for human consumption. The fishing industry, which generated over US$ 274 billion global GDP in 2012 alone, is expected to experience considerable financial losses, the extent of which have yet to be accurately assessed.
Extinction of Marine Species
The study warns that an increase in water temperature could see a migration of species to colder, polar oceans, which will result in direct conflict between endemic and invasive species. This may lead to a further indirect extinction of marine species. Particularly worrying is the potential effect of the warming oceans on phytoplankton, an essential primary producer in the marine food chain. A negative effect on phytoplankton levels could have a severe knock-on effect on many other members of the aquatic ecosystem.
In addition to the threat of increased ocean temperatures, continued climate change is expected to alter the acidity of the oceans as well. According to UNESCO, we could experience an increase in ocean acidity of up to 150% by 2100.
The combination of increased ocean temperature and increased ocean acidity suggests that we may be left with an entirely different marine animal species composition by the end of the century. Thanks to NOAA for image showing the acidification cycle in the ocean.
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