Climate change is threatening thousands of species with extinction, and according to a new study published in the Journal of Science, marine life is at risk of a mass extinction event if we cannot curb our emissions. This is due to rising ocean temperatures and decreases in oxygen.
The team behind the research compared the results to the “Great Dying”, an extinction event that took place 252 million years ago. The more emissions we allow to enter our atmosphere, the less marine life will survive.
And we are already seeing this in many species that are being forced to relocate to colder water. Eventually, they won’t be able to find any. When that happens, that species will go extinct. Some species are not able to relocate, like coral, which is why we see bleaching events.
The good news is that this is still preventable if the world acts fast. Yet, it seems unlikely.
Why Does Climate Change Put Marine Life At Risk?
If anyone has ever looked into setting up their own fish tank, one of the first things you find out is that fish are sensitive to temperature.
Some fish species can only survive in specific temperature ranges, and climate change is raising those temperatures. Since 1901, the surface of the ocean (2,300m deep), where the majority of marine life resides, has risen in temperature by 1.5°F.
While that may not sound like a lot, it has had a huge impact on life in our oceans. As the temperature has gone up, fish are migrating to cooler waters.
This isn’t just having an impact on those ecosystems as it is directly affecting humans. Fishing is a major contributor to the economy and the world’s food supply. Many countries rely on seafood for their protein and have to travel further to catch them.
Of course, ocean temperature increases are only part of the problem. Warmer water also means less oxygen.
Warmer water is actually more buoyant than cooler water, which means that oxygenated water is less likely to mix with deeper water. As a result, there’s less oxygen for marine life that lives down deeper.
Another problem that marine life faces is acidification. Oceans actually put the Amazon Rainforest to shame when it comes to absorbing carbon. Every year, oceans absorb roughly 25% of our emissions, with the majority of it being carbon dioxide.
This is actually changing the chemical makeup of our oceans. As the waters absorb more carbon dioxide, there is more carbonic acid forming. This increases the PH level of the ocean, and they are tightly connected.
When you combine warmer water, less oxygen, and more acid, it results in a mass extinction event that could begin as soon as 2300.
Why Is The Great Dying A Comparable Event?
The research used the Great Dying event as a basis where it was expected that the ocean temperatures rose by 10 degrees celsius.
The main cause of this temperature increase is believed to be linked to extreme volcanic activity. The emissions from them changed weather drastically resulting in mass extinction. The team modeled this even and was able to connect it to conditions today.
The main difference is the speed and severity of emissions between these events.
In the Great Dying’s cases, the hypothesis is that volcanic activity rapidly warmed the temperatures. In our case, the massive amounts of CO2 we are producing are triggering the warming. And we are seeing the same impact on marine life.
While it may seem odd to compare a natural occurrence with a man-induced one, the information the team provides is hard to ignore.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.