Jane Lubchenco: Climate change affecting Earth’s oceans now

Jane Lubchenco: Climate change is happening now. It’s not a theory. It’s a set of observed facts. It’s affecting many of the things that people care about

Marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco is head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Dr. Lubchenco told EarthSky that global climate change from fossil fuel burning is impacting Earth’s oceans today.

Jane Lubchenco: Climate change is already affecting oceans. It’s making them warmer. It’s making sea levels rise. And it’s making them more acidic. All of those change both the beauty and the bounty of oceans.

Lubchenco gave some specific examples from NOAA research.

Jane Lubchenco:
We know that in the North Atlantic, 24 of the 36 stocks of fish that NOAA tracks have been moving northward. Fish are changing their distribution, so they can no longer be found where fisherman used to find them. They are moving to a different place. This general pattern is happening globally.

Climate change is affecting other sea life as well, said Lubchenco.

Jane Lubchenco: Other changes that are happening in oceans as a result of the warming waters is that corals are bleaching with increased frequency. They’re losing their colored microscopic symbionts that live inside them and causing coral reefs to become stressed. As the water warms, it also is melting ice in the Arctic, and many species that are dependent on ice for their homes, from polar bears to ice seals, to many of the plants and animals that live in the water, are becoming increasingly threatened with extinction.

Dr. Lubchenco described the emergence of “dead zones,” oxygen starved waters, off the western U.S. Coast, caused by a disruption of wind circulation that stalls upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich water.

Jane Lubchenco: Since 2002, every summer now, we have seen a dead zone off the coast of Oregon and Washington that is apparently caused by a change in both coastal winds that are linked to larger scale atmospheric circulation and caused by changes in oceanic circulation. Areas that used to be very, very productive are now becoming wastelands, if you will, ‘dead zones’, because of insufficient oxygen in the water that is a result of these combined oceanic and atmospheric changes that we think are most likely related to global climate change.

These “dead zones” are large areas, something completely unexpected by scientists, said Lubchenco.

Jane Lubchenco:
The area ranges in size from year to year, and even during the summertime. It is a significant fraction of the area over the shelf off Washington and Oregon, so it’s a very huge area that’s being impacted.

January 11, 2010

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