Numerous studies are documenting the growing effects of climate change, carbon dioxide, pollution and other human-related phenomena on the world's oceans. But most of those have studied single, isolated sources of pollution and other influences.
Now, a marine geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has published a report in the latest issue of the journal Science that evaluates the total impact of such factors on the ocean and considers what the future might hold.
"What we do on land—agriculture, fossil fuel combustion and pollution—can have a profound impact on the chemistry of the sea," says Scott C. Doney, a senior scientist at WHOI and author of the Science report. "A whole range of these factors have been studied in isolation but have not been put in a single venue."
Doney's paper represents a meticulous compilation of the work of others as well as his own research in this area, which includes ocean acidification, climate change, and the global carbon cycle.
He concludes that climate change, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, excess nutrient inputs, and the many forms of pollution are "altering fundamentally the…ocean, often on a global scale and, in some cases, at rates greatly exceeding those in the historical and recent geological record."
The research documents several major trends, which include a shift in the acid-based chemistry of seawater, reduced subsurface oxygen, both in coastal waters and the open ocean, rising coastal nitrogen levels, and a widespread increase in mercury and other pollutants.
"Human impacts are not isolated to coastal waters," Doney says. They "are seen around the globe."
Moreover, he says, "many of these changes in climate and ocean chemistry can compound each other, making the problem considerably worse for marine life." For example, warming and nutrient runoff both can trigger a decline in oxygen levels off the coast, according to Doney. And acidification, he says, may exacerbate coral bleaching.
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