Friday, August 9, 2019

Ocean Heatwaves Killing the Climate Canary in the Marine Coalmine

A new study shows that ocean heatwaves are twice as common as predicted and this is decimating aquatic ecosystems. This summer's abnormally warm ocean temperatures are cooking mussels in their shells along the west coast of North America. Mussels are the proverbial canary in the coalmine, they are a foundation species and their well-being is indicative of the health of entire ecosystems.

As reported by the Guardian, in June California's Bodega Bay was so hot that mussels were being "cooked in their shells" causing the largest die-offs in a decade and a half. Similar mass mussel deaths were reported at beaches across roughly 140 miles (225km) of coastline. Ocean temperatures could have exceeded 100 F at low tide. Mussels are disappearing all the way along the west coast. As a foundation species these mussel die-offs have troubling implications for entire ecosystems.

"These events are definitely becoming more frequent, and more severe," said Christopher Harley, a biologist at the University of British Columbia. "Mussels are one of the canaries in the coal mine for climate change, only this canary provides food and habitat for hundreds of other species."

It is not only mussels on the West Coast of North America that are under threat from warming seas. The worst hit oceans are the Arctic and the Atlantic where corals, kelp, fish, plankton and other marine life are also succumbing to the heat. The Pacific and Indian oceans have also shown evidence of increasingly frequent heatwaves.

These are the findings of a a study published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study titled, "Challenges to natural and human communities from surprising ocean temperatures," also indicates that ocean heatwaves are both more extreme and twice as frequent as scientists had expected. According to the research this radical increase in ocean heatwaves started in the 80s.

The culprit behind the heatwaves is global warming. As stated in the report: "Climate change is now introducing strong trends that push conditions beyond historic levels."

Ocean heatwaves are not only killing marine ecosystems they are also impacting the livelihoods of millions of people who are dependent on these ecosystems.  Aquatic die-offs are yet another warning demanding urgent action. As we dither, the world keeps warming and we are rapidly running out of time.

Related
The Ocean / Climate Nexus
The Mass Extinction of our Oceans May Have Already Begun
The State of Our Oceans: We are Headed Towards a Marine Mass Extinction

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