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Marine life spawns sooner as our oceans warm

Warming oceans are affecting the breeding patterns and habitat of marine life, according to a three-year international study published today in Nature Climate Change. This is effectively re-arranging the…

This eastern shovelnose stingaree was once unheard of in northern Tasmania. Now it is abundant. Peter Last

Warming oceans are affecting the breeding patterns and habitat of marine life, according to a three-year international study published today in Nature Climate Change. This is effectively re-arranging the broader marine landscape as species adjust to a changing climate.

Scientific and public attention to the impacts of climate change has generally focused on how biodiversity and people are being affected on land.

In the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2007, less than 1% of the synthesis information on impacts of climate change on natural systems came from the ocean.

Yet marine systems cover 71% of Earth’s surface, and we depend on marine life for food, recreation and half the oxygen we breathe. A key unanswered question is whether marine life is buffered from climate change because of the much more gradual warming in our surface oceans – about one-third as fast as on land.

What’s happening in our oceans?

An international team of scientists from Australia, USA, Canada, UK, Europe and South Africa, and funded by the US National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, set out to answer this question. They conducted the first global analysis of climate change impacts on marine life, assembling a large database of 1,735 biological changes from peer-reviewed studies.

Are changes in marine life consistent with climate change? Elvira Poloczanksa

Just as the medical profession pools information on the symptoms of individual patients from surgeries and hospitals to reveal patterns of disease outbreaks, we pooled information from many studies to show a global fingerprint of the impact of recent climate change on marine life. Changes were documented from studies conducted in every ocean, with an average timespan of 40 years.

Although there is a perception in the general public that impacts of climate change are an issue for the future, the pervasive and already observable changes in our oceans are stunning. Climate change has already had a coherent and significant fingerprint across all ecosystems (coastal to open ocean), latitudes (polar to tropical) and trophic levels (plankton to sharks).

These fingerprints show that warming is causing marine species to shift where they live and alter the timing of nature’s calendar. In total, 81% of all changes were consistent with the expected impacts of climate change.

Moving poleward, breeding earlier

As temperatures warm, marine species are shifting their geographic distribution toward the poles. Most intriguingly, though, they are doing so much faster than their land-based counterparts. The leading edge or front-line of marine species distributions is moving toward the poles at an average of 72 km per decade — considerably faster than species on land that are moving poleward at an average of 6 km per decade. Plankton and bony fish, many of which are commercially important, showed the largest shifts.

This Giant Rock Barnacle (Austromegabalanus nigrescens) is expanding down the east coast of Tasmania. Elvira Poloczanska

Warmer temperatures are also changing the timing of breeding, feeding, and migration events. For marine life, their spring events have advanced by more than four days, nearly twice the figure for land. The strength of response varied among species, but again, the research showed the greatest response — up to 11 days in advancement — was for plankton and larval bony fish.

Currents clearly play a role in the large distribution movements seen in the ocean, but there is a more-subtle phenomenon is also at work. Temperature gradients are more gentle in the ocean than over much of the land, and this has important implications for species movement.

Consider the complex topography on land. Many land plants and animals only need to move short distances up or down mountains to reach different temperature regimes. As the ocean surface is relatively flat, marine plants and animals must move greater distances to keep up with their preferred environments as oceans warm.

Seasonal cycles are also dampened in the ocean, meaning that for a set amount of warming, marine species need to shift their timing much earlier than on land.

Australian effect

Although the study reported global impacts, there is strong evidence of change in the Australian marine environment. Australia’s south-east tropical and subtropical species of fish, molluscs and plankton are shifting much further south through the Tasman Sea. In the Indian Ocean, there is a southward distribution of sea birds as well as loss of cool-water seaweeds from regions north of Perth.

Some of the favourite catches of recreational and commercial fishers are likely to decline, while other species, not previously in the area, could provide new fishing opportunities. Essentially, these findings indicate that changes in life events and distribution of species indicates we are seeing widespread reorganisation of marine ecosystems, with likely significant repercussions for the services these ecosystems provide to humans.

The Tasman Sea is rapidly warming. Elvira Poloczanska

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35 Comments sorted by

  1. Comment removed by moderator.

  2. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    Thank you for this important study information.

    I made comment on a similar thread regarding terrestrial ecosystems that an important element of a species ability to 'migrate' was the connectiveness of its habitat. Especially in terrestrial ecosystems, if a species exists in an isolated remnant habitat, its ability to move in response to climate change or other factors would be severly limited. I guess this is not as big a factor in the marine environment, but it must still be a factor.

    For…

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  3. Michael Marriott

    logged in via Twitter

    Thanks for this article and pointing readers to the Nature study. Further lines of evidence demonstrating the breadth and scale of changes happening at the planetary level. We've been ignoring the impact on oceans for far too long (i.e. marine species impact, ocean heat content and uptake and perturbation of the CO2 cycle etc).

    I suspect the privileging, indeed narrow focus, on the minutiae of land temperature data in the "debate" has distracted us from the bigger picture. The world isn't merely getting warmer: we're changing the chemistry of the world's ocean and atmosphere, most likely altering the course of evolution of myriad species and pushing the climate to a new equilibrium state. Worst case scenario? The desertification of vast swathes of once fertile lands and seas swarming with jelly fish.

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  4. Robert Edwin White

    Professor Emeritus

    The article purports to report on a large number of studies done on biological changes in the earth's oceans over an average timespan of 40 years. However, not once is there any mention of the actual temperature changes that had been recorded in these oceans during these studies - so we do not know whether the changes were positive or negative, nor the rate of change and the location of the change. Like many articles on the Conversation, we are given incomplete information to evaluate the conclusions that are being propounded.

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    1. Anthony Richardson

      Research scientist at CSIRO

      In reply to Robert Edwin White

      Dear Robert

      Each time series has a different duration and is from a different location. The easiest way to get a sense of the temperature data that matches each of the time series in the current study is a recent paper that was the fore-runner to the current piece, but focuses on global temperature changes over the past 50 years (Burrows et al. 2011 Science). It can be found at:

      http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6056/652.abstract

      In it, it says:

      "The median rate of warming since 1960 has been more than three times faster on land (0.24°C/decade) than at sea (0.07°C/decade,
      Fig. 1A and table S1)." As you can see from Fig. 1A, the vast majority of the ocean has warmed (83% of its surface area).

      The locations of the time series from the current study (Figure above in the Conversation article) can be matched with data and figures in Burrows et al. (2011).

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    2. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Robert Edwin White

      http://www.csiro.au/files/files/pvfo.pdf
      http://www.oceanclimatechange.org.au/content/images/uploads/Temperature.pdf
      Or you could talk to any fisherman or woman on the eastern tasmanian seaboard from flinders island down. There is not much doubt in this community about the increasing heat in the current which moves down the eastern australian seaboard, reaches flinders I. in Jan, then continues down along the tasmanian coast.

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    3. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Robert Edwin White

      Robert Edwin White.

      That is a very perceptive comment and one which should have been first and foremost in the minds of the researchers. It is most likely that no such measurements were made, which immediately invalidates the results as they would surely know. It would be interesting to see the temperature distribution changes over the years in the oceans many of which may show - in fact will show - a reversal of the claimed general trend. i.e. In many places, while the tropics will in general be hotter than higher latitudes, the relative variations could well be that the higer temperatures at the lower latitudes in fact decreased while those topwards the poles decreased - just perhaps - what happens then??

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    4. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to John Nicol

      Unfortunately none of what you say is happening is true, and the opposite is true. Deep cold antarctic water is dramatically shrinking, and the water of the southern ocean is warming faster than other oceans. There are these things called currents, you see? Did you read any of the links in relation to this topic in reply to Robert above? Or do you have an example of your theory?http://www.asoc.org/storage/documents/Coldest_deepest_Antarctic_water_mysteriously_shrinking.pdf
      http://takvera.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/southern-ocean-warming-impact-on.html

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    5. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Alice,

      I have just read your link "http://takvera.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/southern-ocean-warming-impact-on.html"; and find it makes statements with references which are all only speculative and try to predict the future. It suggests that the IPCC results under estimate the warming, even though several estimates - which is all they can be - of sea surface show that its rate of change is no different from what it has been for the last hundred or so years and that in recent years the rate has slowed…

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  5. Dianna Arthur
    Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Environmentalist

    Articles like this need to be promoted in mainstream press.

    When people read such evidential writing, surely many of the misunderstandings and misconceptions about the continuing ripple effects that even a slight rise in world temperature has exponential effects, would manifest in recognising now permanent changes in the environment.

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    1. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Michael Marriott

      Thank you Michael, although I feel like I regurgitated a dictionary to write the final para - not one of my most eloquent, relieved someone could actually decipher it.

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  6. John Nicol

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    To The Authors.

    I am not a biologist, but do take an interest in science, animals and reality. Are you seriously suggesting that species which have been evolving for millions of years through a huge range of environmental conditions including high temperatures and ice ages, are being affected by a "measurable" amount by a rise of a fraction of a degree in temperature following the LIA.

    "Scientific and public attention to the impacts of climate change has generally focused on how biodiversity…

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    1. Michael Marriott

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to John Nicol

      John,

      The credible authorities disagree with you: they've been saying the ocean's are warming. See above links. With all respect, your link is bogus.

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    2. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to John Nicol

      I'm sure the authors would be confounded by your statement that the ocean has not had a significant change in temperature. You could check your source of information or scroll through the numbers in this chart. The changes outlined in the article above are a part of many similar studies which all say the same thing. They are becoming significant.
      http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/3M_HEAT_CONTENT/

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    3. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      John, you could also switch the same graph to mean temp. anomaly for more information, it's interactive you can find it in the first line under the graph.

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  7. Berthold Klein

    Civil-Environmental engineer

    There are many things in this article that are correct and are documented. The problem they do not address the fact that there is no "credible experiment that proves the greenhouse gas effect". The GHGE is an underlying innuendo to explain a coming calamity. The problem is that the "Calamity " is based on computer "Models" that have never been correct. These are prediction that could be obtained by going to the corner fortune teller and for $5.00 USD you get just as meaningful as the results from…

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    1. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Berthold Klein

      Berthold Klein,

      Well said - you have captured a lot of valuable research in a few words.

      I have just been reading that Antarctic Sea Ice is at an all time high since 1979. Arctic Ice is the highest it has been for about ten years! (But of course, silly me, the heat has all gone to the bottom of the ocean! And you have made that mistake as well!)

      These biologists MAY be correct about the happy travels of these many species, but it also seems to me that the accuracy of their claims is really…

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  8. Berthold Klein

    Civil-Environmental engineer

    Obviously the "science is not settled"
    Was the temperature data obtain in a meaningful method?
    Some data is in question, know your source and is it really being done correctly. This is true of both ocean temperatures and atmospheric temperature data.
    New papers call into question the global sea surface temperature record — Published in Ocean Science

    By: Marc Morano - Climate DepotAugust 4, 2013 7:40 PM

    New papers call into question the global sea surface temperature record
    http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2013/07/new-papers-call-into-question-global.html

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  9. Doug Hutcheson

    Poet

    Thanks for this interesting article, which is useful to inform those who can be educated. Sadly, the comments show that the usual suspects cannot be taught, let alone teach themselves by examining the evidence and are, therefore, part of the problem.

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  10. Jessica Ann

    logged in via Twitter

    More extreme weather, rising seas, and escalating risks to our health. That's what we can expect as climate change gets worse. http://clmtr.lt/cb/vWM0bIV
    AND IT COSTS SO MUCH MONEY to pay for these super-storms.
    If you don’t believe that Supreme Court ruling that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, take a look at how climate change impacts our weather and our health. http://clmtr.lt/cb/vWu0bIV
    BUT THERE IS HOPE!
    Renewable energy is already reliable, and new battery storage technology will make it…

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    1. Berthold Klein

      Civil-Environmental engineer

      In reply to Jessica Ann

      Jessica :just another up date with real climate information.
      New Peer Reviewed Study: Medieval Warming Unprecedented In South America

      As most scientists now recognize, the empirical studies that confirm the Medieval Warming to be unprecedented far outnumber those that statistically speculate otherwise - the latest research now confirms that South America was very hot during the Medieval Warming Period (MWP)

      (click on chart to enlarge; source)

      Unprecedented medieval warming chile southern…

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    2. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Berthold Klein

      As Berthold states, "much greater peak warmth (~2.9 °C) that was experienced at that location back in the middle of the MWP". So what? The discussion of AGW is, by definition, one of GLOBAL temperatures, not of cherry-picked locations and events.

      Berthold has presented nothing of value to the present discussion of marine animals' spawning dates, or their migrations to new locations.

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  11. Berthold Klein

    Civil-Environmental engineer

    This a reply to Jessica:You are absolutely wrong on most points.
    A) the Supreme Court was lied to by Eric Holder and the EPA about CO2 being a pollutant. In spite of the lies the vote was 5 to 4 supporting the claim that gave the EPA the right to declare Humans breathing a crime. You see the Human breath contains about 6% CO2 (60,000 ppm) under EPA this is a violation of the Clean Air Act.
    B) It is well established in US Department of Health and Human Serves Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (note…

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    1. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Berthold Klein

      "Greenhouse gas effect violates fundamental laws of physics". Ah, yes, the argument that the greenhouse effect is a fraud perpetrated by thousands of conspiring scientists over more than 150 years. Strangely, though, Earth is not a snowball at present, despite being so far from the sun that all the oceans should be frozen over.

      So, what is keeping Earth nice and balmy for us humans? It could be climate pixies, or magic rays, or it could be something as obvious and mundane as the greenhouse effect.

      I don't think pixies or magic are keeping us warm: what about you?

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  12. Berthold Klein

    Civil-Environmental engineer

    Doug Hutcheson-poet: Since when does a poet have the knowledge and expertise to supersede thousands of Ph. D physicists, thousands of technically train scientists (look up the Petition Project which has over 30,000 signer that tell the world that the greenhouse gas effect does not exist).
    Doug : Have you had any classes in physics, chemistry, quantum physics, thermodynamic or any other pure science education?
    From your comment it is very obvious that you have none of the above studies in science…

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    1. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Berthold Klein

      Berthold, thank you for the extraordinary lecture and the ad-homs. Your dissertation clearly destroys the past 150 years of physics and chemistry research. I confidently expect you will receive the Nobel Prize for - er - something - and the IPCC will realise it is wrong and will disband itself.

      Indeed, all peak science bodies world wide will certainly have to set aside their support of the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Even the scientists at Skeptical Science will be left without a basis for supporting AGW and the site will, no doubt, issue an apology and close itself down.

      You are a genius, just like Galileo, fighting against the stupidity of the system. I am sure there is a poem in there somewhere. Perhaps a limerick.

      By the way, the same logic clearly shows that the Earth is flat and the sun is actually a fiery chariot drawn by solar steeds. The Age of Enlightenment is still with us, with you its custodian.</sarc>

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    2. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Doug Hutcheson

      Doug

      One thing all CC deniers have in common - they rarely use peer reviewed science from credible sources. If they do link to information from such credible sources, it is a carefully selected piece which at best is ambiguous or out of context. It is true the only 97% of the world's scientists concur with the assiduously considered work of climate scientists, as these results complement work by biologists, botanists, marine scientists and many others.

      Those who claim to be the Galileos of…

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    3. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Dianna, another thing I have noticed with those who deny AGW, is that they cannot get their story straight. They vacillate between "The Greenhouse Effect is a lie", "The Greenhouse Effect exists, but has conveniently become inoperable at current temperatures, because the CO₂/H₂O absorption spectrum is saturated", "The Greenhouse Effect exists, but global sensitivity to it is so low that nothing we can do to the atmosphere can cause global warming", "The Earth is warming, but not from human causes (think Cosmic Rays and Sunspots)", or some other fringe position.

      All these excuses are designed to absolve humanity from blame and ensure business as usual continues to generate profits for people and corporations whose livelihood depends upon increasing the level of CO₂e in the atmosphere.

      Being an artist means that one is automatically pigeon-holed as a lefty/greenie/socialist/freak, without the ability to reason. I'm used to it and it helps me pigeon-hole my detractors. <grin>

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    4. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Doug Hutcheson

      "another thing I have noticed with those who deny AGW, is that they cannot get their story straight"

      If there was any credible basis for the reasons for doing nothing in regard to continuing to pollute and transition to renewables, the least one could expect is a consistent argument. Also their arguments are gleaned from nonscientific, non peer reviewed websites In fact a rule of thumb I use when checking the sites deniers link to, is if the following words; 'warmist', 'Fred Singer', 'Monkcton…

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    5. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Doug Hutcheson

      Doug Hutcheson

      Doug, I think that your comment indicates that you do not understand the science of the Green House Effect (GHE) which is under world wide discussion among scientists, whether they are "climate scientists" or otherwise defined.

      No one of any scientific consequence denies that the presence of carbon dioxide and other green house gases contribute in part (usually estimated at 19%) to the 33 degrees C of warming which makes the earth more generally liveable. Without this, the…

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    6. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Dianna, Following the money at the moment is to promote green energy and research funding for AGW, or to be a memebr of the Mafia digging into the European trading of Carbon Credits..

      I do think that at least a little bit of physics would help in the understanding of the Enhanced Green House Effect, which is after all dependent on the quantum mechanical analysis of carbon dioxide, its spectrum of about 65,000 spectral lines which make up its absorption and radiation bands, the rate of transfer…

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  13. Berthold Klein

    Civil-Environmental engineer

    The following comment from a lead author of the IPCC reports shouts louder than all the poets of the world.
    John Nicol needs to do some real experiments.
    Dr. Vincent Gray on historical carbon dioxide levels

    Posted on June 4, 2013 by Anthony Watts

    NZCLIMATE TRUTH NEWSLETTER NO 312 JUNE 4th 2013

    CARBON DIOXIDE

    There are two gases in the earth’s atmosphere without which living organisms could not exist.

    Oxygen is the most abundant, 21% by volume, but without carbon dioxide, which…

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