Oceans undergoing massive changes, human survival at risk

Posted Jul 6, 2010 by Stephanie Dearing
A survey of research on how climate change is impacting the Earth's oceans has concluded that the oceans are changing rapidly, leading to irreversible changes that could impact humans in a very bad way.
Fish swimming at  a pristine coral reef
Fish swimming at a pristine coral reef
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg / The University of Queensland
The impact of climate change on the world's marine ecosystems was published in Science on June 17, 2010. The report looks at the impacts of climate change on the oceans through a study of existing scientific studies on the same topic. Lead author, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the Director of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland said in a press release that the survey was the first comprehensive synthesis of existing science. Comparing the oceans to human lungs, Hoegh-Guldberg said "... the findings have enormous implications for mankind, particularly if the trend continues ... Quite plainly, the Earth cannot do without its ocean. This study, however, shows worrying signs of ill health. It's as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day!”
Hoegh-Guldberg added “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.”
Hoegh-Guldberg does not keep anyone in suspense over the consequences of unchecked climate change. “This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great extinction event.”
Another scientist who participated in the synthesis, Dr. John Bruno said "This is causing fundamental and comprehensive changes to the way marine ecosystems function. 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”
Bruno is an associate Professor at the Department of Marine Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In an article Bruno wrote for Huffington Post, Bruno said the primary conclusions of the study were "... decreased ocean productivity, altered food web dynamics, reduced abundances of habitat-forming species, shifting species distributions, and a greater incidence of disease. Further change will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide, particularly those in developing countries."
The bottom line, according to the authors, is “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.”
The authors noted that oceans "... cover 71% of our planet, and are critical to the health of our atmosphere, producing approximately 50% of the oxygen that we breathe.
• Oceans absorb 30% of the carbon dioxide produced by humans and more than 85% of the extra heat trapped as a result of global warming.
• It is estimated that 80% of people now live within 60 miles/100 kilometres of the coast, and more than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food. In 20 years, this number could double."