“The biggest threat to our Ocean’s health is climate change,” the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) reports. The twin dangers of rising sea temperatures and acidification are set to become increasingly extreme throughout this century, and are the main factors of climate change destroying our ocean.
Ocean acidification results from the absorption of carbon dioxide by the ocean. The Earth’s oceans have maintained a fairly stable acidity level for tens of millions of years, National Geographic reports. But the oceans absorb about one-third of human-created carbon dioxide emissions, or roughly 22 million tons a day.
Acidification threatens all marine life that secretes calcium carbonate, which builds coral reefs and shells and affects the plankton many fish rely on for food, according to the IPSO. Their State of the Ocean report notes that the rate of acidification in the oceans is the highest it’s been in over 300 million years due to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.
De-oxygenation caused by increased temperatures and industrial runoff is also endangering the health of the oceans and the life they support. According to the report, the combined factors are “unprecedented in the Earth’s known history.”
“We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure,” it continues. “The next mass extinction may have already begun.”
“The health of the ocean is spiraling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought,” Alex Rogers, a professor of biology at Oxford University told The Guardian. “We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated. The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth.”
Current rates of carbon release into the oceans are 10 times faster than the rates of release just before the most recent major species extinction, in the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum extinction about 55 million years ago, the scientists found.
The effects of carbon dioxide on the oceans are “further exacerbated by other anthropogenic stresses” like pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, and the introduction of non-indigenous species to different areas, the report states.
Ocean warming and acidification are the main factors behind oceanographic and biological changes. And although overexploitation and habitat destruction are the main causes of recent extinctions, researchers have observed that climate change is increasingly adding to extinctions.
The report is yet another call for climate change action, and comes just a week after the International Panel on Climate Change released its comprehensive report on climate change. The IPCC report states that scientists can say with 95 percent certainty, or “extreme confidence,” that climate change is the result of human-made carbon dioxide emissions and other human causes.