Ocean changes may have dire impacts on people

Jun 17, 2010
Credits: (A and B) NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; (C and D) Global Ocean Data Analysis Project (R. Key et al., Global Biogeochem. Cycles 18, GB4031 (2004)

(PhysOrg.com) -- The first comprehensive synthesis on the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans has found they are now changing at a rate not seen for several million years.

In an article published today in Science magazine, scientists reveal the growing atmospheric concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases are driving irreversible and dramatic changes to the way the ocean functions, with potentially dire impacts for hundreds of millions of people across the planet.

The findings of the report, “The impact of climate change on the world’s ” emerged from a synthesis of recent research on the world’s oceans, carried out by two of the world’s leading marine scientists, one from The University of Queensland in Australia, and one from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in the USA.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, lead author of the report and Director of The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, says the findings have enormous implications for mankind, particularly if the trend continues.

He said that the Earth's ocean, which produces half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs 30% of human-generated CO2, is equivalent to its heart and lungs.

“Quite plainly, the Earth cannot do without its ocean," he said.

"This study, however, shows worrying signs of ill health.

“It’s as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day!”

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said: “We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail.

“Further degradation will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide.”

He said that we may soon see “sudden, unexpected changes that have serious ramifications for the overall well-being of humans,” including the capacity of the planet to support people.

“This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great .”

The “fundamental and comprehensive” changes to marine life identified in the report include rapidly warming and acidifying oceans, changes in water circulation and expansion of dead zones within the ocean depths.

These are driving major changes in marine ecosystems: less abundant coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves (important fish nurseries); fewer, smaller fish; a breakdown in food chains; changes in the distribution of marine life; and more frequent diseases and pests among marine organisms.

Report co-author, Dr John F. Bruno, an Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina, said greenhouse gas emissions were modifying many physical and geochemical aspects of the planet’s oceans, in ways “unprecedented in nearly a million years”.

“This is causing fundamental and comprehensive changes to the way marine ecosystems function,” Dr Bruno said.

“We are becoming increasingly certain that the world’s marine ecosystems are approaching tipping points. These tipping points are where change accelerates and causes unrelated impacts on other systems, the results of which we really have no power or model to foresee.”

The authors concluded: “These challenges underscore the urgency with which world leaders must act to limit further growth of greenhouse gases and thereby reduce the risk of these events occurring. Ignoring the science is not an option.”

In their study, the researchers sought to address a gap in previous studies that have often overlooked the affects of climate change on marine ecosystems, due to the fact that they are complex and can be logistically difficult to study.

Renowned coral reef scientist and former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, John “Charlie” Veron, says studies of coral reefs have previously dominated investigations into impacts on marine environments, giving rise to the impression that this is simply a “reef problem”.

“This paper gives a refreshingly holistic approach to this subject where reefs have no more profile than other marine ecosystems: the subject is bigger than reefs,” Dr Veron said.

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User comments : 9

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gunslingor1
3 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2010
dfg
gunslingor1
3 / 5 (4) Jun 17, 2010
'This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great extinction event.'
*We are already in the middle of it buddy, well, at least towards the end of the beginning.

'Ignoring the science is not an option.'
Apparently some people think it is. Goes for all science I guess. Astronomy conflicts with religion, ignore astronomy. Climate science conflicts with immediate profit margins, ignore climate scientists. Supress the science and divert the issue, now its about "our dependance on foreign oil" rather than the obvious larger issues of climate change and sky rocketing cancer rates (the previously argument also gives them a chance to drill here, perhaps the gulf of mexico is a good place to look, lol).
dragonfly13
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 17, 2010
he human race is a cancer, indescriminately eroding the essence of life itself. we need to become as our ancestors - in complete & utter synchronicity with the natural rythms of our beautiful and blessed mother earth. we are the miscocosm of the greater macrocosm that is gaia... a degredation of our nurturing mother = a more than obvious degradation of society. harnessing the natural gifts 'she' has given us - the sun - the wind - the water, will give us energy that works in harmony with her, us & the greater universe. if 'they' can split an atom they can harness clean energy - we have to rise up and let them know we're not putting up with their lies anymore! love & blessing to the earth & her oceans x
Jo01
3 / 5 (4) Jun 18, 2010
Number 1 cause of environmental damage (loss of animal habitat, plundering the planet for food, fishing it empty etc.) is the number of humans.
Number 1 solution is to reduce the number of humans by birth control.
The effect is almost immediate.
Strange this isn't mentioned.
danlgarmstrong
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 18, 2010
Only by getting off this planet will we ever gain the resources we need to both sustain ourselves and restore our planet to health.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (3) Jun 18, 2010
Excuse me, but what else you expect from "Global Change Institute"? If they were to publish "nothing have changed, really" wouldn't they have shoot themselves in the foot?

In related news antarctic sea ice cover increased beyond the standard deviation. With this rate sometime around the year 2300 it would cover the entire ocean surface of the globe!
Caliban
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 18, 2010
Excuse me, but what else you expect from "Global Change Institute"? If they were to publish "nothing have changed, really" wouldn't they have shoot themselves in the foot?

In related news antarctic sea ice cover increased beyond the standard deviation. With this rate sometime around the year 2300 it would cover the entire ocean surface of the globe!


http://www.physor...086.html

Try to follow along with the rest of the class.
toyo
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2010
Caliban,
why don't YOU do your homework?
The article you quote is pure rubbish.
Here is NASA, an IPCC contributor, and this is what THEY are finding...
http://earthobser...id=22605
thermodynamics
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2010
toyo: Did you happen to notice that the web page you are pointing to was written in August of 2002? There has been a lot of refinement and better understanding since then. You are partially correct. The Antarctic sea ice has shown a slight increase while the Arctic sea ice has shown a large decline. If you look carefully at the reasons (mostly developed since 2002) you will find that the arctic and antarctic are expected to respond differently because of their very different composition (arctic is mostly ocean surrounded by land and the antarctic is mostly land surrounded by ocean). The idea is that both regions are important indicators and can't be taken in isolation. You should pull out more recent references if you don't want to be misconstrued as disingenuous. NASA and NSIDC have some great information on the cryosphere (that even supports some of what you are saying but not the idea that what Caliban was saying is rubbish).