Climate change

New insights into future ocean landscapes revealed

Written by Oceanographic Staff

A new study found that climate change will alter familiar ocean environments, while creating new ones and undermining existing conservation efforts.

Climate change is altering the ocean at an alarming pace. This is nothing new. A new study, however, published in the journal One Earth and conducted by experts at the Oregon State University, has found out more about climate change impact on the oceans and has found concrete examples about how marine environments could look like in the near future.

The study on climate change impact found that biogeochemical ocean conditions fundamentally link with climate change and that this will lead to new conditions in very large marine protected areas ultimately exacerbating the need for different MPA management.

Novel conditions will be found in up to 97 per cent of very large marine protected areas. According to the study, new pH conditions will be seen as soon as 2030, while novel ocean environment conditions will be seen by 44.9 per cent of the ocean by 2060 and up to 87 per cent by 2100. 60 to 87 per cent of the ocean is expected to see various biological and chemical changes by 2060, including higher acidity levels, higher water temperatures and changing oxygen levels.

According to the study, MPAs in the tropics and the Arctic would be most exposed to novelty conditions with change rates of 76 to 97 per cent in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve, for example.

James Watson, assistant professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and the paper’s co-author, said: “What we’re looking at here is the potential extinction of a whole environment. In some places, the environments we have today are not going to exist in the future. We won’t be able to go visit them or experience them. It is an environmental, cultural and economic loss we can’t replace.”

The study took a closer look at three different warming scenarios, including likely, unlikely and highly unlikely degrees of warming. “In all three scenarios, conditions in more than half of the ocean are going to be novel, meaning new and significantly different, than they have been in the last 50 years,” explained the paper’s lead author Steven Mana’oakamai Johnson. He said: “For example, tuna thrive in certain ocean conditions. If the ocean gets too warm, the tuna may move to another area. If your country depends on tuna for food or livelihood, what impact will that have? Or if you’re a manager of a protected area, and you’re protecting a species that is no longer in the area, what do you do?”

With most of these changes expected by 2060 and changing acidity levels expected much sooner, the study sheds some light on expected climate change impact on the oceans and shows that reconsidering the management of MPAs should be a priority.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.

Photography courtesy of Unsplash.

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