A time for sea change

Since I haven’t had time to write anything substantive today (thankfully, I hear some say 🙂 ) I thought I might just post this short video about the impact of climate change on our oceans. As a physicist I often forget that there is more to anthropogenically-driven climate change than simply physical climatology. We’re also influencing the biosphere, and the oceans is a very important part of that.

It’s a nice short video, but it’s got quite a powerful message. It’s also nice to see scientists speaking out about the potentially serious issues that we may face if we don’t start to reduce our emissions.

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7 Responses to A time for sea change

  1. I liked it. The oceans being ‘smoking gun’ I think is spot on. Because phytoplankton are so small and out of sight, they don’t get much press (unlike the equally important forests). But when/ if they go, boy we are screwed. One thing puzzled me was Stephen Palumbi’s CO2 (emissions) curve … Coming down by 2100! A little late?!

  2. JCH says:

    I don’t know about the smoking gun… with this problem, by the time the bullet hits, the gun has been cleaned and put away and sold at an estate sale.

  3. excellent video, thanks. Not on topic, but I just looked at this devastating overview of Indonesian fires. I knew they were bad, but …

  4. Phytoplankton actually adapt to rising temperatures fairly quickly (100 generations, 45 days) and increased carbon dioxide in the oceans has led to rapid growth – as opposed to population reductions that were expected a few decades ago.


    The question is whether one variable or the other (increased temperature, increased CO2) may favor a particular species of phytoplankton that will then out-compete other species that are important to the ocean foodchain.

  5. oneillsinwisconsim –

    Thanks for the links – interesting – but not decisive I feel. The first paper is available in full at …
    It looks like a solid piece of work. It was assessing the thermal response in lab conditions, demonstrating increased ‘carbon use efficiency’, but the study was not intended (on my brief reading) to show the response to expected acidification expected over the coming century.

    Marine ecosystem research seems to have undergone a boom in recent years, as shown in the Nature review paper I quote from here:
    ”It is well established that organisms can adapt to ocean change, either through selection of existing genetic variation or via novel mutations. The adaptive potential is proportional to the population size and generation time, with highest adaptation rates expected for species with large population sizes and short generation times. … The few studies that have been conducted so far indicate that adaptation becomes evident in phytoplankton after only a few hundred generations (about 6 to 12 months) and can compensate, at least partly, the adverse effects of ocean acidification. … The question is not, therefore, whether adaptation can occur but whether it can occur rapidly enough to keep ecosystem functions and services unchanged. … Owing to the specific requirements of experimental evolutionary studies, including long-term exposure to the variable tested and a high level of replication, these approaches are not easily combined with multiple-driver or community-level approaches.”


    i.e. watch this space.

    My only perhaps simplistic thought is that if (upper) ocean acidification gets above some point (and some estimates suggest a Ph of 7.7 by 2100), I feel that chemistry will start to overwhelm biological evolution (or thermally inspired polar migration), in determining the fate of calcifiers like phytoplankton.

    I think its fair to say that no ones yet understand the the overall impact on the marine ecosystems when we get to that point. A good time to deploy the precautionary principle.

  6. izen says:

    One red herring in the dispute about the effects of warming and ph changes in the ocean is the argument over whether the changes will cause collapse and extinction in the ocean ecology, or whether the system is much more resilient and the diversity of species will enable an evolved adaptation to the increased temperatures and decreasing ph.

    It is entirely possible that the ‘alarmists’ who predict ecological breakdown are wrong, that the ocean systems are adaptable enough to respond to the changes despite the global rapidity compared to ‘natural’ geological change.

    The problem is that the adaption will not leave the ecology of the oceans the same, or even roughly similar, to the present. Warming oceans have resulted in a bloom of coccoliths. That is not a sign that warming is benign instead of damaging. It may be good for coccoliths, but that changes the dynamics of the food chain and will alter the diversity and type of predators further up the ecological ladder.

    The choice is not between an ecological collapse triggered by warming/ph, versus an ocean ecosystem that is resilient enough to follow a BAU course.
    It is between ecological collapse and significant adaptive ecological change that will profoundly affect the type and availability of the food we derive from the oceans.

    And that is before the impact of overfishing is considered.
    Jelly-fish and chips in the future?

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