Everyone knows climate change is affecting our world in unexpected ways. From melting glaciers to lack of access to safe water in parts of the globe, we’ve explored a number of these effects in previously published blogs. This week, though, we’re talking about what’s potentially the thing most affected by climate change—the oceans. Take a deep dive with us to discover three unexpected changes climate change has caused in our oceans and their impacts.
Rapidly Evolving Species
The evolution of species is nothing new. It’s been happening slowly over millions of years to every species from the smallest bacteria to the largest animals on land and in the sea. However, as seas are warming, researchers have found that evolution is happening at a much faster rate.
Researchers at Flinders University in Australia used DNA information to test how different regional species of goby (a small, bony fish found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats) have evolved, and their findings challenge the previous scientific belief that portions of a species must be isolated from one another to evolve differently. Each of the regional populations of goby they studied showed slight DNA alterations based on whether they lived in cool-temperate, warm-temperate, subtropical or tropical waters. The remainder of the genes in the fish, however, remain unaltered, proving that the changing temperatures are the sole reason behind the evolution of these populations.
Intensifying Surface Color
Both green and blue areas of our oceans are intensifying in color due to climate change. A study from MIT found that changes to phytoplankton found in the oceans due to climate change could drastically alter the surface color of regions of the oceans in the coming decades. Warmer water affects how different species of phytoplankton grow, interact, mix and absorb and reflect light. Researchers postulate that these changes could affect the coloring of 50 percent of the ocean’s surface by the year 2100.
Ocean color won’t be the only thing that shifts as phytoplankton change their habits. These microscopic plants are also the basis of aquatic food webs, and changes in their behavior or genetic makeup could cause major changes to the fish that consume them. Even the smallest change could disrupt the diets of entire oceanic ecosystems.
Shifting Current Patterns
Scientists have long been interested in the way oceanic currents are changing. As more, better research is being conducted, disturbing details are emerging about the way these currents are evolving. Most concerning is the fact that many currents seem to be slowing down. The Atlantic current has weakened by nearly 30 percent since 2004, and other currents are showing similar patterns.
An oceanographic team led by Susan Lozier, a physical oceanographer at Duke University, is diving into the research as scientists search for proof that climate change is at least partly responsible for slowing these currents. While researchers state that the jury is still out on the reason for these shifting currents, they hope their research will help them gain understanding about underlying causes and believe that climate change could be a factor at the very least.
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