Published: most comprehensive ever analysis of marine systems’ response to climate change

Global imprint of climate change on marine life has just been published – the most comprehensive meta-analysis of marine system response to climate change.

The worldwide team of researchers responsible for the work have assembled a database of around 1700 changes in marine life  – like shifts in species distribution, phenology etc. 81% of those changes were consistent with the expected effects of climate change, were comparable to changes on land and in many cases were more exaggerated.

This global investigation has revealed the true scale of ocean warming. The comprehensive worldwide study has found that the world’s marine systems are reacting to climate change on a scale greater than scientists previously thought.

The three-year research project, funded by the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis of California, shows that complete shifts are widespread in a number of marine biological responses, including the distribution of species and phenology – the timing of nature’s calendar. It also shows that these shifts are comparable to or greater than those observed on land.

The report, Global imprint of climate change on marine life, is published in this month’s Nature Climate Change and will be used by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. It was led by the University of Queensland and included the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Argyll, among 17 institutions across the world.

One of the report’s lead authors, Professor Mike Burrows in the Department of Ecology at SAMS, said the study was ‘the most comprehensive review of published reports of the effects of climate change in the sea.’

Professor Burrows says: ‘Most of the effects we saw were as expected from changes in climate. So, most shifts in the distributions of, say, fishes and corals, were towards the poles, and most events in springtime, like spawning, were earlier. Despite the increase in temperatures in the ocean being smaller than on land, the changes in ecology were every bit as evident in the sea, and sometimes even bigger.’

The team worked through hundreds of published papers to compile a global database of observed marine biological responses to regional and global climate change.

Professor Camille Parmesan at the University of Texas explained how one possible difficulty with this new study being perceived as novel and unique is that ‘the basic messages are so similar to those from previous global analyses.

‘I think this is the coolest aspect of the results. Basically, here’s a totally different system with its own unique set of complexities and subtleties, yet the over-arching impacts of recent climate change in the oceans tell a very similar story to that of species on land. The big picture remains the same – an over-whelming response of species’ shifting where and when they live in an attempt to track a shifting climate.’

The research team was organised and led by Elvira Poloczanska and Anthony Richardson who are credited with achieving a report that is ‘truly looking at biological impacts from a new and unique perspective’. They made this possible by drawing together a global-spanning international team of experts.

Among numerous parallel observations, the report shows that over a 40-year period the global average of species displacement was 75 kilometres, which is up to ten times the figure for terrestrial displacement. The most noticeable effects were seen in phytoplankton, zooplankton and bony fish.

Mike Burrows says: ‘Some of the biggest shifts in relation to changing climate were in the North Sea, with some fish and plankton shifting northwards at up to 200km per decade over the last 50 years’.

The researchers also found that spring phenology in the oceans has advanced by more than four days, nearly twice as fast as on land. The strength of response varied among species, with the greatest advancement of up to 11 days in invertebrate zooplankton and larval bony fish.

Other evidence indicating that climate change is the primary driver behind the observed changes was the opposing responses within a community of warm-water and cold-water species.

In total, 83% of all the observations, whether for distribution, phenology, community composition, abundance, or demography, across different populations and ocean basins, were consistent with the expected impacts of climate change.

Mr Burrows says: ‘The effects of climate change on marine life might not be immediately visible, but when, for example, fish we are used to catching in Scotland, like mackerel, shift away from our waters in search of cooler climes, the economic and political consequences can be severe’.

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17 Responses to Published: most comprehensive ever analysis of marine systems’ response to climate change

  1. So conditions are returning to where they used to be ie Cod stocks in the North Sea have been increasing year on year for the last 7 years. Lets hope the potato harvest is matching it !

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

      • I resist the ‘thumbs down’ game, Malcolm (not wishing to encourage feelings of martyrdom), but I do think that the revival of North Sea cod stocks might be a lot to do with government fishing policies and nothing to do with the notion that climate change is some sort of fantasy.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

        • You need a sense of humour at all times Robert – the thumbs up/down are just that – a source of humour.
          You miss the point I was trying to make relative to the main piece above – the cod are back where they were before – in the North Sea – they haven’t moved anywhere else because of supposed changes in sea temperatures.That is the most important bit. Their numbers have certainly improved due to fishing policies as you rightly say.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  2. So lets have a comment from somebody who even the most ardent SNP fan surely would not dare to contradict even though it denigrates the beliefs of their ‘Dear Leader’ as to the answer to Global Warming.
    An article in the Scotsman by Sir Donald Miller,former chairman of the South the South of Scotland Electricity Board and of Scottish Power.The full article is at the address below:-
    “Scots face worlds biggest energy bills from Wind Power”
    “has described the SNP’s current energy policy as disastrous ”
    “independence with present energy policies would be disastrous for Scotland – worse than Denmark”
    “the one thing that would potentially save Scotland is it’s Nuclear Power Stations”
    “marine energy is a waste of consumer’s money”
    “Wave energy is even less promising”
    “No disinterested engineer would believe that these could ever be sensible investments to meet the UK’s energy requirements.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

    • I note that Sir Donald Miller is the “former” chairman of Scottish Power. In fact, he ceased to be chairman 21 years ago, back in 1992. What he happened to be then is hardly relevant to today’s situation. Perhaps, for balance, it should be stated that Scottish Power are investing heavily in, e.g., marine energy which he dismisses as a waste of money.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

      • Prior to that Donald Miller was known as a brilliant engineer in the then North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board where he was appointed “Chief Engineer” i.e. one position below Chief Executive prior to moving to SSEB, the forerunner of Scottish Power.

        Miller has kept his interest in engineering alive since his retirement and he knows more about power generation and supply than the entire “shabang” of them at DECC and Holyrood.

        People should listen to him, especially, government.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

      • He was appointed Chairman in 2000. Scottish Power is a company that needs to make a profit therefore will climb on the renewables bandwagon in every way possible.I don’t blame them for that – the subsidies are there to be had. Nor do I blame a farmer for trying to build a wind farm on his land – the profits are huge. The problem is with Government policy in making it all possible in the first place. Liberals down South and the SNP here.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  3. The comments don’t specify what is meant by “climate change”.

    The climate has been changing non-stop for about five billion years and the world, including the oceans has been warming for a couple of hundred years plus. Is that what we are talking about or are they saying the changes are attributable to mankind?

    There has always been a tendency for the Antarctic to cool when the Arctic warms and vice versa and sure enough, as the Arctic ice extent has decreased over recent years, contrary to the predictions of IPCC boffins, the opposite has been happening in Antarctica.

    Yes. On 31st July (2013), according to NSIDC scientists, Antarctic sea ice extent broke ALL RECORDS for that day.

    What are the consequences of THAT “climate change” and how shall we prevent it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  4. Andrew Argylle. In answer to your question, if, as the scientists say, “83% of all the observations, whether for distribution, phenology, community composition, abundance, or demography, across different populations and ocean basins, were consistent with the expected impacts of climate change.”, then there is obviously 17% that isn’t consistent, presumably including the extent of Antarctic sea ice. However, while the sea ice extent may be breaking records, the retreat of some of the Antarctic glaciers and the melting of some of the ice shelves are as marked as in the Arctic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

    • I’m not denying that our ever-changing climate is likely to affect the distribution of species, after all, it’s known that there were once alligators and other exotic tropical species in Spitzbergen and Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic.

      I’m not denying that the world has been warming for two hundred-odd years so changes in marine and land life are likely to ensue. We can do nothing about that.

      I haven’t so far seen this “climate change” referred above to attributed to mankind however the allusion is clear. We are supposed to think:

      1. That it is caused by mankind and we must mend our wicked ways, and

      2. That it will be disastrous.

      Neither of these conclusions is valid.

      E.g. Is this research suggesting that if the mackrel, etc., move north the seas will become empty of fish or will they be replaced by different species from farther south who expand northwards?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

      • Sea Bass around Tiree…yes please.
        As for Aligators in Spitzbergen, or indeed fossils on the summit of Chomolungma…this is plate tectonics ( shifting of continental plates) and nothing to do with climate change.

        Climate change, global warming is a fact…does mankinds activities have anything to do with it…maybe? probably ? perhaps ?… but not at a speed we cannot as a species adjust too.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. No matter the cause, climate change is happening.

    Exactly what are we (Britian and the world) doing to adjust to its future effects? A renewables policy will bring real poverty to many but won’t make an iota of difference to the consequences of climate change.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

    • Dead right Lowry.

      Climate has always changed and it always will and any attemps we make to meddle with the titanic natural forces in which we’re immersed are likely to both fail and/or produce unpredictable, unwanted, side effects.

      The effects of “climate change” are likely to be the same as we see now, storms, heat, cold, flood, etc., perhaps, in different places than we see them now and where little has been done to ameliorate their effects e.g. Pakistan – snow and floods.

      Why must we always assume that climatic change will be harmful when it’s getting warmer, millions died of cold and/or starvation across Europe during the Little Ice Age when ice fairs were held on the Thames.

      We now have vast civil engineering capability and as an international community we should put money towards improving defences in existing known high risk areas. If and when the high risk moves to different areas the aid allocation should follow it. That would make more sense than squandering it on the expensive folly of blanket renewable energy installations.

      What we have been doing is utter madness and it needs to stop – now!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  6. It’s to be noted that none of the usual died in the wool pro SNP/Renewables experts posted comments on the above. It shows what happens when they are faced with facts as opposed to political propaganda !

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. Pingback: Marine Life at Threat from Warming Oceans | Camilla James: Writing Collection

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