According to new research, up to 95 percent of Earth's ocean surface would be altered by the end of the century unless humanity reduces carbon emissions.
The great majority of sea life is supported by ocean surface climates characterized by surface water temperature, acidity, and the concentration of the mineral aragonite-which many marine creatures need to make bones and shells.
However, with CO2 levels in the atmosphere rising at a rate not seen in at least three million years, there are concerns that ocean surface temperatures may become less friendly to the species that live there.
Examining Carbon Pollution's Impact on the Ocean
Researchers in the United States sought to examine carbon pollution's impact on the ocean surface since the mid-eighteenth century. They also predicted how emissions would affect the world in the year 2100.
They did so by simulating worldwide ocean conditions throughout three time periods: the early nineteenth century (1795-1834), the late twentieth century (1965-2004), and the late twenty-first century (2005-present) (2065-2014).
The models were then put through their paces in two different emissions scenarios. The first, dubbed RCP4.5, predicts a peak in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, followed by a gradual decline for the remainder of the century.
The second scenario, RCP8.5, is a "business as usual" scenario, in which emissions grow steadily over the next 80 years.
Altered Oceanic Biological Composition
The researchers discovered that under the RCP4.5 scenario, 36 percent of the ocean surface conditions that existed throughout the twentieth century are expected to vanish by 2100.
This percentage climbs to 95% under the high-emissions scenario.
The researchers also discovered that, whereas ocean surface climates exhibited minimal change during the twentieth century, up to 82 percent of the ocean surface might experience climates unprecedented in recent history by 2100.
Unfit for Habitation
Seas that are hotter, more acidic, and have fewer minerals necessary for sea life to thrive are among them.
According to lead research author Katie Lotterhos of Northeastern University's Marine Science Center, the altering composition of the ocean as a result of carbon pollution would likely affect all surface species.
While surface species have been able to migrate around to escape abnormally warm or acidic regions of the ocean in the past, Thursday's study shows that owing to near-uniform warming and acidification. Environmental conditions may restrict their options in the future.
"Many marine animals have already altered their ranges as a result of warmer waters," Lotterhos added.
"In the future decades, the communities of species found in one region will continue to move and change fast."
Dire Situation in Need of Immediate Action
She stated that governments must keep an eye on the changing behaviors of marine surface species in the future.
But, in the end, the emissions that cause global warming and acidification must be stopped.
"By 2100, unique and vanishing climates in the sea surface will be prevalent throughout the planet without (emissions) mitigation," Lotterhos said.
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