Climate Change Affecting Marine Species
August 5, 2013

Impact Of Climate Change On Marine Life Analyzed By International Research Team

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Global warming is forcing marine species to alter their breeding times and shift their geographic distribution towards the poles, according to new research published in this month's edition of the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study comes from an ongoing research project, in which researchers from 17 international institutions are conducting a three-year global meta-analysis of the impact of climate change on marine systems.

Their project, which has been funded the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in California, has discovered that marine species are traveling towards the poles at a far faster rate than their land-based counterparts.

"This is the first comprehensive documentation of what is happening in our marine systems in relation to climate change," former Nobel Prize recipient Camille Parmesan, the National Marine Aquarium Chair in Public Understanding of Oceans and Human Health within Plymouth University's Marine Institute and one of the lead authors of the new study, said in a statement.

She added the research provided a "simple, but important message...What it reveals is that the changes that are occurring on land are being matched by the oceans. And far from being a buffer and displaying more minor changes, what we're seeing is a far stronger response from the oceans."

Parmesan and her colleagues compiled a database of more than 1,700 changes in marine life from international peer-reviewed scientific journals and other literature in order to analyze the impact of climate change. They discovered 81 percent of all changes could be directly linked with global warming.

They also discovered the so-called "front line" marine species such as phytoplankton and bony fish are moving towards the poles at an average rate of more than 44 miles (72 kilometers) per decade. In comparison, terrestrial creatures are moving pole-ward at an average rate of less than four miles (six kilometers) per decade, even though sea surface temperatures are warming three times slower than land temperatures.

The report will form part of the Fifth Assessment Report United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), which is due for publication in 2014. The IPCC, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland assesses scientific, technical and socioeconomic data related to climate change, its potential effects, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies.

"The effects of climate change on marine species have not been a major focus of past IPCC reports because no one had done the work to pull together all the disparate observations from around the world," said UCSB scientist Carrie Kappel. "This study provides a solid basis for including marine impacts in the latest global accounting of how climate change is affecting our world."

"Our research has shown that a wide range of marine organisms, which inhabit the intertidal to the deep-sea, and are found from the poles to the tropics, have responded to recent climate change by changing their distribution, phenology or demography," added Dr. Pippa Moore, a lecturer in aquatic biology from Aberystwyth University. "These results highlight the urgent need for governments around the globe to develop adaptive management plans to ensure the continued sustainability of the world's oceans and the goods and services they provide to human society."