Even the smallest change in ocean oxygen levels can have serious impacts on ecosystems.
Latest analysis data has shown that climate change has caused drastic changes to the chemical make-up of the oceans, decreasing the amount of oxygen in the sea water. These findings are added to the huge impact on the ice caps and glaciers, as well as the increasing levels of carbon dioxide, according to recent reports. The results of the analysis which took place over the past 50 years, gathering data from a range of parameters from ocean salinity to temperature, was published in Nature.
They calculated that over these five decades the world’s oceans have lost an average of two percent of their total oxygen. Whilst this may sound like a reasonably small percentage, researchers have noted that the smallest drop in oxygen concentration in the ocean is enough to completely alter specific ecosystems, which includes the formation of dead zones. The reports state that the crucial reason as to why oceans are losing their oxygen is simply owed to the heating of the water. Reports have stated that “As the oceans warm, their ability to trap dissolved oxygen decreases, which is why colder waters on Earth contain a lower concentration of the gas”. In addition to this, the warming of the ocean is also creating another effect. As the water warming is generally contained to the upper levels of the oceans, it then decreases the density of the water at the surface, which then prevents it from dropping down to the deeper depths and taking the life-giving and essential oxygen with it.
The result of this drop in ocean oxygen could be catastrophic when combined with the array of other impacts that climate change is currently having. As the polar ice caps melt, the increase in fresh water is expected to disrupt the ocean currents, which then, in turn, could be driving the abnormal weather conditions that have been seen in the past few winters over much of Northern Europe and America. Although the increase in carbon dioxide does have some benefit for some organisms, it is likely to be hugely harmful to many others. In addition to this, those creatures who have calcium carbonate shells will simply dissolve away due to the increasing acidity of the water, which will include the vast coral reefs in the tropics.
Together with the acidity, the rising surface ocean temperatures also directly harm the living organisms and have also been the main factor in creating the worst bleaching event ever recorded on the most biodiverse habitat on Earth; the Great Barrier Reef. The northern latitudes are also severely affected by the rising temperatures, due to the ranges of cold water fish, including cod, trout, and redfish, now thought to be shifting north as they are seeking out cooler waters. An estimation has been given of over 3 billion people that depend on a healthy marine environment for their livelihoods. This means that as climate change begins to radically impact various ecosystems, it will have a drastic knock-on effect on the future of those individuals, which will then go on to seriously affect all of mankind.
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