The "fundamental and comprehensive" changes to marine life identified in the report include rapidly warming and acidifying oceans, changes in water circulation and expansion of dead zones within the ocean depths.
These are driving major changes in marine ecosystems: 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.
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 conclude: "These challenges underscore the urgency with which world leaders must act to limit further growth of greenhouse gases and thereby reduce the risk of these events occurring. Ignoring the science is not an option."
In their study, the researchers sought to address a gap in previous studies that have often overlooked the affects of climate change on marine ecosystems, due to the fact that they are complex and can be logistically difficult to study.
According to leading US marine scientist, the University of Maine's School of Marine Services Professor Robert S. Steneck, the study provides a valuable indicator of the ecological risk posed by climate change, particularly to coastal regions.
"While past studies have largely focused
|Contact: Rob Mackay-Wood|
Global Change Institute