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Climate Change Impacts on Ocean Ecosystems

Posted on 8 February 2011 by John Bruno

I am posting an awesome talk by Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from a session Ove and I organized on climate change impacts on ocean ecosystems at the NCSE  Our Changing Oceans meeting a few weeks ago in Washington, DC.

Session summary: Rapidly rising greenhouse gas concentrations are driving ocean systems toward conditions not seen for millions of years, with an associated risk of fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation. Changes in biological function in the ocean caused by anthropogenic climate change go far beyond death, extinctions and habitat loss: fundamental processes are being altered, community assemblages are being reorganized and ecological surprises are likely.

The speakers included myself, Ove, Dr. Mary O'Connor (an assistant prof at UBC) and Dr. Steve Gaines, the dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, at UCSB.

After the session Steve Gaines and I participated in a panel discussion on NPR's Science Friday about climate change and the oceans that you can listen to here. I think we may have even convinced Ira to call it ocean change, rather than climate change! 

You can download many of the papers referred to in the talks here (including the Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno Science paper on "The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystems" and several of Mary O'Connors papers).

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. John Bruno - Thank you for posting this.

    I think I need a beer now. Possibly several...
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  2. Bleak.
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  3. Think I'll join kr at the bar.

    Thanks anyway, John. We need to know this even if we don't want to.
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  4. Gee, first the phytoplankton news, Dai 2010, now this...

    What's next, Cryosat-2 showing we're one strong Arctic DiPole summer away from Santa's Workshop going Waterworld?

    Make room at the bar, I'm buyin'...

    The Yooper
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  5. Just knowing does not do any of us any good. We have to be able to take realistic action based on that knowledge. Unfortunately, we have failed to persuade the people who are actually in any position to throttle back the enormous burps of CO2, and the case of phytoplankton die off makes it clear we are already too late, especially too late to rely on the slow methods of democracy.

    Meanwhile, the Koch brothers are hard at work turning back what little progress we did make in the States against AGW.

    Therefore, I now think the best hope for the survival of the human race comes down to one of three very unpleasant options:

    1) nuclear winter. But come to think of it, I am not even sure that the latest climate models even agree with the earlier ones, that this would do the trick

    2) an alliance between Earth Liberation Front and Al Qaeda to steal that rotting tomato can from the former Soviet bio-weapons lab and deploy the 90% fatal disease it contains

    3) the billionaire grandsons of plutocrats like the Koch brothers figure out how to transfer their memories and consciousnesses into genetically engineered cockroaches, since cockroaches can survive anything. But even they would have trouble with the oncoming onslaught.

    Of course, I am sure none of us would want to see the sole surviving slice of humanity come from -that- class!
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  6. This is a scenario enrolling in front of our eyes that is almost exactly as I feared. Also we are beginning to see the impact of climate change on humanity: steeply rising food and energy prices (which is annoying for the wealthy nations, but a disaster for the poorer nations), social unrest, climate fugitives, a mounting number of starving people, a mounting number of casualties from natural disasters. And we are only seeing the very beginning. I think in hindsight, 2010 will go down in history as the year of the truth. The year the truth could no longer be denied.

    I have always been interested in history, and have always realized – contrarily to most of the people in the wealthy nations – that our current welfare and security are rather an exception in the history of mankind, and that this state of affairs may not last. Future generations – perhaps even the children living today – are going to have a hard time.

    Of course, the question is: what to do with this knowledge ? It is the single most important issue of our time, probably the biggest issue in the history of mankind. How can I continue going to work every day – solving some minor issues with our digital TV product or designing new features, new ways to make people spend some more money on TV - when this massive problem is lurking in the background ? It makes all human activity futile.

    International politics has failed utterly and totally. What are the other options ? To convince the world population, the people, what is happening and that immediate action is necessary. But as we experience, even educated people are hard to convince. In fact the problem is that people must almost have had a scientific training before they can understand the available evidence. And there are many people in this world that can hardly read or write. They are doing what they always do: do whatever it takes to survive. Choice is is a luxury, only available to the wealthy. What are we going to tell these people ?

    I don’t think mankind will go extinct. But in the future the global population will no longer be measured in billions – perhaps in millions. Perhaps those that survive will have learned the lesson and adopt another attitude towards the environment they live in and depend upon.

    One slight consolation is: nature will recover eventually. Nature is incredibly strong. Life survived the Perm-Trias mass extinction event, I am sure it will survive the human plague as well. But that is the extreme long-term vision.
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    Moderator Response: [Daniel Bailey] See my response to you below @ 10.
  7. Ann
    you envision a possible tragedy, not the necessary outcome. The path out of this mess is clear and although apparently the will to follow it is lacking, the word "end" has not been written yet.
    Wars are won or lost in the long run. In any event, it is our personal duty to do the right thing, whatever it takes, whatever happens around us. We can not abdicate, we're not given this possibility.
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  8. Thanks John Bruno for posting the talk. Very thought provoking, amazing that this information rarely makes headlines
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  9. Thanks PM, KR and others. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think knowledge IS part of the solution, which is what SkepticalScience is all about. I know we need tech, policy action and social change, but I think this is coming, e.g., Obama to regulate greenhouse gases via EPA. I actually see all this playing out with a happy ending - but I am a pathological optimist...
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  10. @ Ann (6)

    I know how you feel, for those thoughts have been my thoughts.

    It would be easy to sink into a morass of despair, overcome by the overwhelming nature of what lies before us. Why even try...

    Consider this, then:
    Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

    One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up.

    As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

    As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"

    The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean."

    "I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?"

    "The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die."

    "But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!"

    The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said,

    "It made a difference for that one."
    *********************************************************************************

    There is something very special in each and every one of us. We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference. And if we can become aware of that gift, we gain through the strength of our visions the power to shape the future.

    We must each find our starfish. And if we throw our stars wisely and well, the world will be blessed.

    So be proud in what you do, daily.

    Lead boldly, walk with confidence, chin high.

    Pay it forward, save a life today. Make a difference, one starfish at a time.

    The Yooper
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  11. @Ann

    Period in many parts of the world, certainly warmer than the present-called Older Peron, this is period known in many cultures 'paradise': “At least a few commentators — anthropologists, folklorists, and others — have linked era of the Older Peron transgression and the Neolithic Subpluvial with tales of a "time of plenty" (Golden Age ; Garden of Eden) that occur in the legendary backgrounds of many cultures.”

    Enhanced biological carbon consumption in a high CO2 ocean, Riebesell et al., 2007. :
    “Here we show that dissolved inorganic carbon consumption of a natural plankton community maintained in mesocosm enclosures at initial CO2 partial pressures of 350, 700 and 1,050 atm increases with rising CO2. The community consumed up to 39% more dissolved inorganic carbon at increased CO2 partial pressures compared to present levels, whereas nutrient uptake remained the same.

    Briefly about the lands: more efficient photosynthesis takes place at higher temperatures and CO2 - see figure here. Commentary on the figure quoted above is as follows:
    “The upper curve is the same for C4. From this it is clear that at double CO2 concentration, not only has the efficiency of C3 crops improved tremendously, but the temperature at which optimal photosynthesis occurs in C3 increases up to that of C4. Thus the vast majority of food crops will benefit hugely by increased CO2, and even more so by increased CO2 coupled with warming”

    In many parts of the ocean current was noted a significant increase in NPP.

    However, the NPP of the ocean yet we know very little ( Pratt, 2010.).

    Hoegh-Guldberg conclusions are strongly premature.
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    Moderator Response: [Daniel Bailey] Problems with Riebesell et al 2007 have been noted (in abstract form here and in full text form here). As far as your next bit, partaking of material sourced to an extreme denialist blog is disappointing, Arkadiusz. Original peer-reviewed published sources are best for credibility.
  12. why has the ph in the Atlantic changed so much quicker than other bodies?
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  13. 11, Arkadiusz,

    Before getting too enamored of the benefits of increased CO2 for plants, remember that the reason C4 and CAM plants like corn exist (and are so importantly successful in many cultivated climates around the globe, including, importantly, the U.S.) is that their CO2 intake is restricted by water loss, which is in turn restricted by temperature.

    When it gets too hot, plants lose too much water, and close up. They don't lose as much moisture when their stomates close, but by the same token they can't take in CO2, no matter how much there is in the air. So when it gets too hot and/or too dry, photosynthesis shuts down. Only specially adapted plants survive (crabgrass in a U.S. summer, cactus in the desert). Those plants, overall, don't tend to be very productive crops. They put their energy and specialization into hot-weather survival rather than fruitful (and edible) reproduction.

    And even those plants can reach a breaking point. It only takes a short while of too warm, too dry weather to destroy an entire year's worth of crops. If that became the rule rather than the exception, much of the world would begin to go hungry.
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    Moderator Response: More info is in the Argument "CO2 is not a pollutant." See also the comments there.
  14. #12 dorlomin, that's a good question. I can only guess reasons for that, one might be the exchange of water between atlantic and other oceans is less in amount than that between indian and pacific. That would be because of the antarctic circumpolar drift, but I'm only guessing here.
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  15. @ Arkadiusz
    In addition to the issues others have pointed out, your links on NPP do not show what you claim they do.

    The first one, which you claim shows an increase in NPP doesn't make any claims about global NPP trends. The only trend shown is for a single grid cell in the Irminger Sea. However, if you follow the link back to the original data source at Oregon State, you do find the presentation Climate Driven Trends in Contemporary Ocean Productivity which shows a decrease in global NPP. Although the data only covers a short period, the result is consistent with in situ measurements of phytoplankton. Note that the authors of that paper warn that global NPP is cyclical, so short the short periods covered by satellite data aren't necessarily useful for determining the long-term trend.

    Your other link on NPP is just about a new model to convert satellite data into NPP measurements since the latter cannot be measured directly from space. Luckily though, there are other, much older methods of measuring NPP including respirometery, directly measuring chlorophyll concentrations, using Secchi disks, etc. which provide us with data independent of the satellites. It does not follow from your link, that because the satellite algorithms are still being optimized, we know very little about NPP via all other methods.
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  16. „extreme denialist blog”

    - maybe you're right that it is "extreme denialist blog. " I hate extremists on both sides. But this blog in a focused, make absolutely basic knowledge about photosynthesis. Only part of the comments are too tendentious.

    “... CO2 intake is restricted by water loss ...”

    The increase in CO2 reduces the number of stomata and their opening times - reducing the consumption of water for plant growth. This is basic knowledge - I can not see the needs of citation of sources.
    Warming does not mean dry.
    In very warm Holocene optimum of the Sahara was flourishing oasis of greenery - is also a basic knowledge - I can not see the needs of citation of sources.
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