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Mysterious Ocean Migration Due To Global Warming

June 27, 2011

Scientists said a surprising appearance of plankton and whales through the Northwest Passage might be a sign of how global warming is affecting animals and plants in the oceans as well as on land.

Scientists found plankton in the North Atlantic where it has not existed for at least 800,000 years.

“The implications are enormous. It’s a threshold that has been crossed,” said Philip C. Reid, of the Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in Plymouth, England.

“It’s an indication of the speed of change that is taking place in our world in the present day because of climate change,” he told the Associated Press (AP).

The study of plankton and the research on a 43-foot gray whale that was spotted off the Israeli town of Herzilya last year are among nearly 300 scientific papers written over the last 13 years that are being synthesized and published this year by Project Clamer.  This project is a collaboration of 17 institutes on climate change and the oceans.

Katja Philippart, of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research who is coordinating the project funded by the European Union (EU), said changes in the oceans’ chemistry and temperatures could have implications for fisheries, as species migrate northward to cooler waters.

“We try to put the information on the table for people who have to make decisions. We don’t say whether it’s bad or good. We say there is a high potential for change,” she said in a statement.

The Northwest Passage is the route through the archipelago from Alaska across northern Canada. 

The endangered gray whale sighted off the Israeli coast in May 2010 belonged to a species that was hunted to extinction in the Atlantic by the mid-1700s.  The animal appeared off the Spanish coast 22 days later, and has not been reported since.

The researchers said its presence in the Mediterranean “coincides with a shrinking of Arctic Sea ice due to climate change and suggests that climate change may allow gray whales to re-colonize the North Atlantic.”

The scientists say that may be good for the whales, but other aspects of the ice melt could be harmful to the oceans’ biosystems.

The study authors said plankton have been blamed for the collapse of some fish stocks and threats to fish-eating birds in the North Sea.

Project Clamer will hold an international conference at the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium, Brussels, September 14 through 15.

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