Climate change and the oceans – what does the future hold?

The ocean has been shielding the earth from the worst effects of rapid climate change by absorbing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This absorption of CO2 is driving the ocean along the pH gradient towards more acidic conditions. At the same time ocean warming is having pronounced impacts on the composition, structure and functions of marine ecosystems. Warming, freshening (in some areas) and associated stratification are driving a trend in ocean deoxygenation, which is being enhanced in parts of the coastal zone by upwelling of hypoxic deep water. The combined impact of warming, acidification and deoxygenation are already having a dramatic effect on the flora and fauna of the oceans with significant changes in distribution of populations, and decline of sensitive species. In many cases, the impacts of warming, acidification and deoxygenation are increased by the effects of other human impacts, such as pollution, eutrophication and overfishing.

The interactive effects of this deadly trio mirrors similar events in the Earth’s past, which were often coupled with extinctions of major species’ groups. Here we review the observed impacts and, using past episodes in the Earth’s history, set out what the future may hold if carbon emissions and climate change are not significantly reduced with more or less immediate effect.

Bijma J., Pörtner H.-O., Yesson C. & Rogers A. D., in press. Climate change and the oceans – what does the future hold? Marine Pollution Bulletin. Article (subscription required).

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