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Saturday June 25th 2011

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World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline, report finds ‘speeds of many negative changes … are tracking the worst-case scenarios’

Professor Chris Reid, Marine Institute, University of Plymouth and Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science highlights the speed of change which has been greater than most scientists predicted even in worst case scenarios.

A “shocking” report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) comes from the “first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.”

The 27 leading experts “produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues”:

we now face losing … entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation. Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean. It is notable that the occurrence of multiple high intensity stressors has been a pre-requisite for all the five global extinction events of the past 600 million years

Dr. Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director, said in a release:

“The findings are shocking.  This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

This bad news isn’t big news to Climate Progress readers.  Two years ago I discussed a study that found global warming is “capable of wrecking the marine ecosystem and depriving future generations of the harvest of the seas” for a long, long time (see 2009 Nature Geoscience study concludes ocean dead zones “devoid of fish and seafood” are poised to expand and “remain for thousands of years).

A year ago I wrote about a Nature Geoscience study, which found our oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred.  Also last year the Geological Society reported that acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century.”

This report makes clear that dangerous impacts are occurring now, and we have little time to act to avert catastrophe.  It’s good to see a group of leading experts spell things out bluntly, along with some must-see videos like these two:

Case Study 1: The potentially deadly trio of factors — warming, acidification and anoxia — affecting today’s oceans, by Professor Jelle Bijma, Marine Biogeosciences, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Watch his explanation, beginning with the growing problem of anoxia, or dead zones, in the ocean.

You can Download Case Study PDF here.  The PDF on what we’re doing to the corals is here.

A broader overview of the report is here:

Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, gives the overview of the main problems affecting the ocean — and some suggested solutions.

Here are some key findings:

  • Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the oceans and are now causing increased hypoxia
  • The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating.

Consequences of current rates of  change already matching those predicted under the “worst case scenario” include: the rate of decrease in Arctic Sea Ice and in the accelerated of both the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctic ice sheets; sea level rise; and release of trapped methane from the seabed….

  • The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood
  • Timelines for action are shrinking.
  • Resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stressors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution and habitat destruction.
  • Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors.
  • The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing.

The first recommended action will come as no big surprise to no one but the disinformers:

Immediate reduction in CO2 emissions

The UK Media has been blunt in its reporting:

I hope the US media gives this urgent and consequential story equally strong attention.

This article was originally posted on Climate Progress