"The climate is currently warming faster than the worst case known from the fossil record, about 56 million years ago, when temperatures rose about 6 degrees over 1000 years. If emissions continue it is not unreasonable to expect warming of 5.5 degrees by the end of this century."
Scientists expect ocean oxygen levels to decline by about six per cent for every one degree increase in temperature and areas in the sea which are low in oxygen to grow by at least 50 per cent. This has major implications for the world's most productive fishing waters in the cool temperate regions. The seas provide around one sixth of humanity's protein food and any loss in fisheries production will have a direct impact on us, he adds.
Besides the changes induced by carbon emissions, the oceans are also under assault from over-fishing, increased UV exposure, toxic pollution, alien species and disease. The combined effect is to weaken the ability of many species to withstand these multiple stresses.
Another risk is that warming will unlock vast reserves of frozen methane in the seabed, triggering uncontrollable, runaway global warming.
"In the face of such terrifying changes even large scale interventions such as establishment of very large networks of Marine Protected Areas are unlikely to be effective," Mike cautions. "On a global scale, an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions is essential to minimize future human-induced climate change."
The oceans can also play a role in the proposed solution of eliminating carbon emissions, by producing clean energy from wind, wave and tide potentially by triggering phytoplankton blooms with fertilisers to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, or using the seabed to store CO2. However these
|Contact: Michael Kingsford|
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies