United Nations Launches New Flagship Report On State Of The Ocean

The Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA II)

The Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA II) is the major output of the second cycle of the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the States of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects. It is the newest outcome of the only integrated assessment of the world’s ocean at the global level covering environmental, economic and social aspects.

WOA II is a collective effort of interdisciplinary writing teams made up of more than 300 experts from around the world, including scientists from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of Plymouth. It provides scientific information on the state of the marine environment in a comprehensive and integrated manner to support decisions and actions for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, in particular goal 14, as well as the implementation of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

The report catalogues a swathe of impacts on what UN secretary general António Guterres said was the planet’s “life support system”.

Sea levels were rising, coasts were eroding, waters were heating and acidifying and the number of deoxygenated “dead zones” was rising.

Martin Edwards and Michael Moore from Plymouth Marine Laboratory who contributed to the section on human health and the oceans said “there is strong evidence of an increase in the spread of pathogens related to climate warming (e.g., Vibrio) and there is some evidence related to an increase in some harmful algal bloom species related to climate warming is some regional areas around the world. Increasingly the spread of non-indigenous species have also started to be considered as one of the major threats to global marine ecosystems through impacts on the ecosystem’s structure, function and services.

Marine litter was present in all marine habitats, the report said, and overfishing was costing societies billions. About 90% of mangrove, seagrass and marsh plant species were threatened with extinction, the report said.

The report said there had been progress in protecting more marine areas, but there were still many scientific knowledge gaps to be filled.

Specifically for the pelagic environment, climate change during the course of the twenty-first century is expected to continue to drive changes in the upper ocean that have an impact on the diversity and productivity of plankton assemblages on the regional to global scales.

  • These changes include an expansion of the subtropical gyres, ocean warming and acidification, decreases in salinity, increases in vertical stratification and decreases in inorganic nutrient supplies to the euphotic zone in the open ocean. Predicted biological responses to those changes on a global scale include the following:
  • Primary production  is likely to decrease and the relative abundance of picophytoplankton is likely to increase at the expense of microplankton diatoms. These trends are likely to propagate through food webs resulting in decreases in the ocean’s carrying capacity for fisheries and in its capacity to sequester carbon through the biological pump.
  • Plankton food webs in the polar oceans and coastal upwelling regions will be the most affected by ocean acidification, owing to the high solubility of CO2 in cold waters.

Get the report here: https://www.un.org/regularprocess/woa2launch

Rise of marine predators reshaped ocean life as dramatically as sudden mass extinctions

Evolutionary arms races between marine animals overhauled ocean ecosystems on scales similar to the mass extinctions triggered by global disasters, a new study shows.

Scientists at Umeå University in Sweden and the Florida Museum of Natural History used paleontological databases to build a multilayered computer model of the history of marine life over the last 500 million years. Their analysis of the fossil record closely echoed a seminal 1981 study by paleontologist J. John Sepkoski – with one key difference.

Sepkoski’s ground-breaking statistical work showed abrupt ocean-wide changes in biodiversity about 490 and 250 million years ago, corresponding to two mass extinction events. These events divided marine life into what he called “three great evolutionary faunas,” each dominated by a unique set of animals.

But the new model reveals a fourth.

The fierce fight for survival that played out between predatory marine animals and their prey about 250 to 66 million years ago may have been an equally powerful force, reshaping ocean diversity into what we see today. This third grand transition was much more gradual than its predecessors and driven by organisms, rather than external processes.

“What we learned is that not all major shifts in animal life have been related to mass extinction events,” said study lead author Alexis Rojas, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Florida. Rojas is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Integrated Science Lab, a hub dedicated to interdisciplinary research at Umeå University.

Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History

Many scientists have long held the view that external factors such as volcanic activity, asteroid impacts or changes in climate are the primary drivers of major shifts in the Earth’s biosphere, said study co-author Michal Kowalewski, Rojas’ doctoral adviser and the Florida Museum Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology.

“The fossil record tells us that some of the key transitions in the history of life were rapid changes triggered by abrupt external factors. But this study shows that some of those major transitions were more gradual and may have been driven by biological interactions between organisms,” he said.

More information: Rojas, A., Calatayud, J., Kowalewski, M. et al. A multiscale view of the Phanerozoic fossil record reveals the three major biotic transitions. Commun Biol 4, 309 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-021-01805-y

Climate change has reduced ocean mixing far more than expected

The ocean is dynamic in nature, playing a crucial role as a planetary thermostat that buffer global warming. However, in response to climate change, the ocean has generally become stabler over the past 50 years. Six times stabler, in fact, than previously estimated–as shown by a new study that researchers from the CNRS, Sorbonne University, and IFREMER have conducted within the scope of an international collaboration.* Warming waters, melting glaciers, and disrupted precipitation patterns have created an ocean surface layer cut off from the depths. Just as oil and water separate, so this division of surface and deeper waters limits oceanic mixing, making it harder for the ocean to mitigate climate change. Furthermore, climate change has strengthened winds, which has thickened the ocean surface layer by 5 to 10 m per decade over the last half century. This has hindered vital access to light for most marine organisms within it. Published in Nature, these findings underscore the consequences of climate change and anthropogenic phenomena for the ocean, the life it harbours, and its capacity to remain a global thermostat into the future.

This work calls for reconsideration of the drivers of ongoing shifts in marine primary production, and reveals stark changes in the world’s upper ocean over the past five decades.

More information: Sallée, JB., Pellichero, V., Akhoudas, C. et al. Summertime increases in upper-ocean stratification and mixed-layer depth. Nature 591, 592–598 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03303-x

UK waters are home again to the bluefin tuna

Atlantic bluefin tuna have returned to UK waters and can once again be seen during the summer and autumn months.

Their numbers appear to be increasing, following a long period of absence linked to population decline, according to research led by Cefas and the University of Exeter.

Marine scientists in the UK and Ireland have analysed multiple datasets, spanning a 16-year period, to document the increase in bluefin, which arrive into the waters of the Celtic Seas and off South West England, the Scilly Isles, and North West Ireland to feed in late summer and autumn.

The research is part of the Defra-funded “Thunnus UK” research project.

Thunnus UK was established to improve knowledge of this species, as an essential first step in ensuring a positive future for Atlantic bluefin tuna around the UK.

Central to the project’s success has been a concerted effort to share and combine important data on where people have observed Atlantic bluefin tuna.

This will help to identify where and when these fish are found in UK waters.

Nearly 1,000 unique observations were recorded between 2013 and 2018 by citizen scientists, scientists, fishers and eco-tour leaders.

Researchers found that Atlantic bluefin tuna begin to arrive in May and stay as late as January.

However, peak numbers were recorded between August and October each year.

The research draws on five key data sources:

  • The general public: A total of 80 sightings recorded by the public and submitted to http://www.thunnusuk.org
  • Eco-tourism: three eco-tourism vessels collecting data on more than 1600 boat tours off the SW coast of England between 2008 and 2018.
  • Opportunistic scientific surveys: 40 days of surveys with >2500 km of effort conducted by Cefas and University of Exeter experts off the Northwest Coast of Ireland and SW England in 2016 and 2018.
  • Fisheries independent surveys: (1) data collected by MarineLife during the Peltic survey by Cefas between 2013 and 2015, and (2) data collected by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group during the Irish Marine Institute’s Celtic Sea Herring Acoustic Survey between 2014 and 2018
  • Bycatch in commercial fisheries: Bluefin tuna were accidentally caught (bycatch) in the Irish commercial fishery for albacore tuna between 2003 and 2017.

Lead author Tom Horton, of the University of Exeter, said: “Atlantic bluefin tuna are once again a feature in nearshore waters off the UK and Ireland.

We’ve been able to document this story by using data from a wide variety of sources. We need to work together to ensure a future for Atlantic bluefin tuna, both in the UK and Ireland and more broadly throughout their range in the Atlantic Ocean. This is a really exciting study and the return of these fish suggest an important role in the UK’s ecosystem.

Are cold winters in Europe caused by melting sea-ice in the Arctic?

They are diligently stoking thousands of bonfires on the ground close to their crops, but the French winemakers are fighting a losing battle. An above-average warm spell at the end of March has been followed by days of extreme frost, destroying the vines with losses amounting to 90 percent above average. The image of the struggle may well be the most depressingly beautiful illustration of the complexities and unpredictability of global climate warming. It is also an agricultural disaster from Bordeaux to Champagne.

Nasa

It is the loss of the Arctic sea-ice due to climate warming that has, somewhat paradoxically, been implicated with severe cold and snowy mid-latitude winters.

“Climate change doesn’t always manifest in the most obvious ways. It’s easy to extrapolate models to show that winters are getting warmer and to forecast a virtually snow-free future in Europe, but our most recent study shows that is too simplistic. We should beware of making broad sweeping statements about the impacts of climate change.” Says professor Alun Hubbard from CAGE Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

Melting Arctic sea ice supplied 88% of the fresh snow

Hubbard is the co-author of a study in Nature Geoscience examining this counter-intuitive climatic paradox: A 50% reduction in Arctic sea-ice cover has increased open-water and winter evaporation to fuel more extreme snowfall further south across Europe.

The study, led by Dr. Hanna Bailey at the University of Oulu, Finland, has more specifically found that the long-term decline of Arctic sea-ice since the late 1970s had a direct comparison to one specific weather event: “Beast from the East”—the February snowfall that brought large parts of the European continent to a halt in 2018, causing £1bn a day in losses.

Researchers discovered that atmospheric vapor traveling south from the Arctic carried a unique geochemical fingerprint, revealing that its source was the warm, open-water surface of the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean between Norway, Russia, and Svalbard. They found that during the “Beast from the East,” open-water conditions in the Barents Sea supplied up to 88% of the corresponding fresh snow that fell over Europe.

Climate warming is lifting the lid off the Arctic Ocean

“What we’re finding is that sea-ice is effectively a lid on the ocean. And with its long-term reduction across the Arctic, we’re seeing increasing amounts of moisture enter the atmosphere during winter, which directly impacts our weather further south, causing extreme heavy snowfalls. It might seem counter-intuitive, but nature is complex and what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.” says Bailey.

When analyzing the long-term trends from 1979 onwards, researchers found that for every square meter of winter sea-ice lost from the Barents Sea, there was a corresponding 70 kg increase in the evaporation, moisture, and snow falling over Europe.

“This study illustrates that the abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now, really are affecting the entire planet,” says professor Hubbard.

Their findings indicate that within the next 60 years, a predicted ice-free Barents Sea will likely become a significant source of increased winter precipitation—be it rain or snow—for Europe.

More information: Hannah Bailey et al, Arctic sea-ice loss fuels extreme European snowfall, Nature Geoscience (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-021-00719-y

Provided by UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Scientists complete largest global assessment of ocean warming impacts

A group of international marine scientists has compiled the most comprehensive assessment of how ocean warming is affecting the mix of species in our oceans – and explained how some marine species manage to keep their cool.

Martin Edwards from the University of Plymouth along with other researchers from the UK, Japan, Australia, USA, Germany, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand analysed three million records of thousands of species from 200 ecological communities across the globe.

Reviewing data from 1985 – 2014, the team led by Michael Burrows of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban showed how subtle changes in the movement of species that prefer cold-water or warm-water, in response to rising temperatures, made a big impact on the global picture. The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0631-5], show how warm-water species increase and cold-water marine species become less successful as the global temperature rises. However, the study also suggests that some cold-water species, and fish in particular, will continue to thrive by seeking refuge in cooler, deeper water.

Prof Burrows  further added:

“For the period from 1985 – 2014 we created the equivalent of an electoral poll in the ocean, showing swings between types of fish and plankton normally associated with either cold or warm habitats. As species increase in number and move into, or decline and leave, a particular ecological community, the make-up of that community will change in a predictable way. While this may not sound like a big change, it has a considerable impact on species that may already be on, or close to, their maximum temperature tolerance. A gradual temperature change like the one we are witnessing is not going to cause extinctions overnight but it is affecting the success of many species, not least zooplankton such as copepods, which are crucial to the ocean food web”.

Prof Edwards said the truly global study looked at data from the North Atlantic, Western Europe, Newfoundland and the Labrador Sea, east coast USA, the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Pacific from California to Alaska. While the global warming trend was widely seen, the North Atlantic showed the largest rise in average temperature during the time period. This area of the North Atlantic is routinely monitored by one of the world’s largest and longest marine biological surveys known as the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Survey which provided some key observational data in the global study. The changes observed have been driven by a seemingly small but ecologically significant rise in temperature of almost one degree Celsius in some parts of the ocean since 1985, a rapid change in just three decades. These changes are having huge implications for the abundance and distribution of plankton in our oceans.



Climate-related changes in fish and plankton communities shown by changes in Community Temperature Index values from 1985 to 2015.

Plymouth scientists highlight effects of climate change on UK’s plankton

Marine scientists in Plymouth have led a major study highlighting the effects of climate change on the plankton populations in UK seas.

Published as part of a wide-ranging report by the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP), it shows there have been extensive changes in plankton ecosystems around the British Isles over the last 60 years.

It says climate variability and ocean warming have had negative impacts on plankton production, biodiversity and species distributions, which have in turn affected fisheries production and other marine life such as seabirds.

The study was written by world-leading researchers from the University of Plymouth and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, along with colleagues at Marine Scotland Science and the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

It forms part of the MCCIP Report Card 2020, which summarises 26 individual, peer-reviewed scientific reports to provide detailed evidence of observed and projected climate change impacts and identify emerging issues and knowledge gaps.

Emergence of a cold-water ‘blob’ in the North Atlantic sub-polar gyre region

Martin Edwards, Professor of Ocean Ecology at the University of Plymouth, led the report on plankton. He said:

“There have been extensive changes in plankton ecosystems around the British Isles over the last 60 years, mainly driven by climate variability and ocean warming. For example, during the last 50 years there has been a northerly movement of some warmer water plankton by 10° latitude in the North-east Atlantic and a similar retreat of colder water plankton. Future warming is likely to alter the geographical distribution of plankton abundance and these changes may place additional stress on already depleted fish stocks, as well as having consequences for mammal and seabird populations.”

Among the key factors highlighted in the plankton report are:

  • There has been a shift in the distribution of many plankton and fish species around the planet.
  • The North Sea populations of previously dominant and important zooplankton species (the cold water species Calanus finmarchicus, a major food source for fish, shrimp and whales) have declined in biomass by 70% since the 1960s.
  • Species with warmer-water affinities (e.g. Calanus helgolandicus) are moving northwards to replace the species, but are not as numerically abundant.
  • The decline of the European cod stocks due to overfishing may have been exacerbated by climate warming and climate-induced changes in plankton production.
  • Future warming is likely to alter the geographical distribution of primary and secondary open ocean (pelagic) production, affecting ecosystem services such as oxygen production and the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Get the report here: