Photo by coolmikeol via Flickr CC
It feels like reading a tabloid headline when we see reports about irreversible damage to ocean systems and the worldwide mass extinctions that could result. Unfortunately, it's an all too real possibility. Renowned marine scientists Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of The University of Queensland's Global Change Institute, and Dr John F. Bruno, an Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina, have completed a comprehensive study pulling together information from the most recent oceanographic research. Their findings show that we're very close to irreversible damage to the health of the oceans, which means we're "well on the way to the next great extinction event."
Based on changes including warming temperatures, acidification, expansion of dead zones, and changes in ocean currents, the life support system of the planet is suffering, and in some cases, already failing.
Science Daily reports, "Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, lead author of the report and Director of The University of Queensland's Global Change Institute, says the findings have enormous implications for mankind, particularly if the trend continues... He warned that we may soon see 'sudden, unexpected changes that have serious ramifications for the overall well-being of humans,' including the capacity of the planet to support people. 'This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great extinction event.'"
While it sounds terrifying, it also isn't necessarily a surprise to hear such grave concerns. For the last few years, marine scientists have been warning us about major changes in the oceans systems that could be irreversible, changes like levels of acidification reminiscent of those not seen since the last mass extinction. The only real difference here is that the authors of the study are stressing that we're hitting the wall now and that the complexity of the connections among marine systems makes finding any immediate solutions incredibly difficult.
"Less abundant coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves (important fish nurseries); fewer, smaller fish; a breakdown in food chains; changes in the distribution of marine life; and more frequent diseases and pests among marine organisms" are all major warning signs that the systems balancing out life in our oceans and therefore life on line are on the brink of collapse.
Report co-author, Dr John F. Bruno, an Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina, says greenhouse gas emissions are modifying many physical and geochemical aspects of the planet's oceans, in ways "unprecedented in nearly a million years." "This is causing fundamental and comprehensive changes to the way marine ecosystems function," Dr Bruno said.
"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."
The authors state that without world leaders acting on issues like capping greenhouse gasses, we have little hope of stopping ourselves from going over those tipping points.
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More on the Oceans and Mass Extinction
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