Climate

January Was Record Warm, And That’s Bad News For Marine Life

CREDIT: shutterstock

Ocean temperatures are soaring — and that is bad news for many forms of marine life, including rock lobsters, according to two new studies from Cornell. Indeed, one of studies warns that the same warming-driven disease that was “a contributing factor to lobster fishery collapse in southern New England,” may soon threaten Maine since coastal waters are warming rapidly.

A January study from NOAA and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers found that “half of the global ocean heat content increase since 1865 has occurred over the past two decades.” This is a remarkably rapid doubling of global ocean warming.

noaa

As you can see in the above figure from NOAA, the world’s oceans had record-setting temperatures in 2015. NOAA’s latest monthly report reveals that global ocean temperatures soared in January. January 2016’s Northern Hemisphere ocean temperatures in particular topped the previous record — 2015, of course — by a staggering 0.5°F.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be a total shock. We know East Coast sea surface temperatures have been rising considerably faster than the global average — and recent research suggests that this may be driven in large part by global warming itself as I discussed last month.

NHoceantemps1-16

The problem is that warmer oceans temperatures are bad for many forms of marine life, as explained in two articles from a new issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B focused on marine diseases. One of the studies reviews the “known links between disease outbreaks and temperature, including diseases that affect corals, turtles, lobsters, bivalves, starfish and eelgrasses.” As one of the authors explained, “We can say when these organisms are going to be at risk of disease outbreaks based on temperature projections.”

In particular, the study looks at epizootic shell disease (ESD) — one reason lobster fisheries collapsed in southern New England (SNE). It concludes, “As feared, recent increases in temperatures thought to have contributed to ESD onset and rapid progression in SNE are projected to continue unabated.” Equally worrisome:

The lowest maximum bottom temperature associated with ESD prevalence in SNE is 12°C. Our seasonal outlook for 2015 and long-term projections show bottom temperatures greater than or equal to 12°C may occur in this and coming years in the coastal bays of Maine.

The warming is poised to continue for a long time. A January study by NOAA scientists, “Enhanced warming of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean under climate change,” concluded that extra warm East Coast SSTs are feature of a warming world.

Another study in the Royal Society special issue focused on “ochre stars, the most abundant sea star species along the West Coast.” The results were alarming: “Warmer ocean temperatures led to higher risk of infection from sea star wasting disease, an affliction that wiped out 90 percent of some populations from Mexico to Alaska between 2013 and 2014. Adult populations fell to one quarter of pre-outbreak numbers in the San Juan Islands, Washington.”

One of the study’s senior authors noted, “The outbreak occurred during a period of anomalously warm sea water and stars in the San Juan Islands had a higher disease risk at warmer sites.”

We are playing with hot water here, placing marine life at risk — and that’s without even looking at the impact from ocean acidification. Study after study makes clear that rising emissions of carbon pollution are pushing us toward a collapse of key ocean ecosystems, ones that provide food for over a billion people. It’s time we stopped!