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The effects of climate change to the oceans' ecosystems

According to new research, climate change is causing such radical shift in the world's oceans that potential consequences will cause a cataclysmic event in aquatic ecosystems that surpasses anything that has occurred in the Earth's history over eons.

Climate change's effect on oceans.

Rapidly increasing climate change is having a significant impact on ocean ecosystems, raising the risk of extinction.

The temperature of the world's seawater is progressively rising as a result of the additional heat generated by the combustion of fossil fuels, while oxygen levels in the ocean are falling and the water is acidifying as a result of carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere.

This suggests that the oceans are overheating, gasping for air (the amount of oxygen-depleted ocean waters has quadrupled since the 1960s), and becoming more inhabitable. Because of the acidification of seawater, sea animals such as clams, mussels, and shrimp are incapable to form proper shells.

The conditions of rising heat and oxygen loss, according to research, are alarmingly similar to the mass extinction incident that took place around 250 million years ago at the end of the Permian period. This tragedy, dubbed as the "great dying," resulted in the extinction of up to 96 percent of all marine animals on the planet.

“Even if the magnitude of species loss is not the same level as this, the mechanism of the species loss would be the same,” said Justin Penn, a climate scientist at Princeton University who co-authored the new research.

“The future of life in the oceans rests strongly on what we decide to do with greenhouse gases today. There are two vastly different oceans we could be seeing, one devoid of a lot of life we see today, depending on what we see with CO2 emissions moving forward.”

The study discovered that if the world continues to emit planet-warming gases unrestrainedly, it will result in more than 4 degrees Celsius of average warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. As climate continues to warm, this will result in extinctions that will redefine ocean life over several hundreds of years.

Even in the best-case scenario, the earth will still end up losing a percentage of its marine life. At 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels of warming, which is expected even under current global climate efforts, approximately 4% of the world's two million marine organisms will be destroyed.

According to the research, fish and marine mammals living in polar regions become the most endangered because, unlike tropical species, they will be unable to relocate to cooler areas. "They will have nowhere to go," Penn predicted.

Climate change is exacerbating the threats that aquatic life already faces, such as overfishing and pollution. The research, which drew on data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, discovered that between 10% and 15% of marine species are already critically endangered due to these multiple threats.

The new study seemed "sound," according to John Bruno, a marine ecologist at the University of North Carolina who was not part of the study, but it deviated from past published studies, which imply species will primarily scatter to new regions instead of being completely wiped out.

“It’s very different from what most prior work has developed. But that doesn’t mean they are wrong,” Bruno said. “I think this new work is challenging some of our current assumptions about the geographic patterns of looming extinction in the ocean.”

Whilst also mass extinctions from intense temperatures are likely to occur, Bruno believes that the prevailing impact of global warming and several other concerns should be enough to worry lawmakers and the general public.

“Personally, I’m a lot more worried about the ecosystem degradation we’re already seeing after less than 1C of warming,” he said.

“We don’t need to look to a world so warmed over humanity has been wiped out – we’re already losing untold biodiversity and ecosystem functioning with even the relatively modest warming of the last 50 years.”

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