Ocean Life Under Threat From Climate Change

” …an overwhelming bias toward land-surface studies…”

Media Release
6 June 2008

The international science community must devote more resources to
research into the effects climate change is having on ocean
environments, according to a paper published today in the journal
Science by researchers at CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation National
Research Flagship.

“Marine ecosystems are undoubtedly under-resourced, overlooked and
under threat and our collective knowledge of impacts on marine life
is a mere drop in the ocean,” wrote Dr Anthony Richardson, from The
University of Queensland and CSIRO, and his co-author, Dr Elvira
Poloczanska from CSIRO in Hobart.

“There is an overwhelming bias toward land-surface studies which
arise in part because investigating the ocean realm is generally
difficult, resource-intensive and expensive,” they said.

The disparity in focus on land-based compared to marine impacts was
highlighted in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s
(IPCC’s) Fourth Assessment Report (2007), which included 28,500
significant biological changes in terrestrial systems but only 85 in
marine systems.

The paper argues that the collection of marine environment data over
20 years or more – a requirement for inclusion in IPCC assessments –
suffered in the mid-1980s due to government funding cutbacks for
international marine science research, just as ocean warming began

The authors advocate change in the existing IPCC process to better
assess the impacts.

“Climate change is affecting ocean temperatures, the supply of
nutrients from the land, ocean chemistry, food chains, shifts in wind
systems, ocean currents and extreme events such as cyclones,” Dr
Poloczanska said. “All of these in turn affect the distribution,
abundance, breeding cycles and migrations of marine plants and
animals, which millions of people rely on for food and income.
Development of the Integrated Marine Observing System, announced in
2006, is an important step forward but securing data over the time
scales relevant for climate assessment will not occur until near

Dr Richardson said the situation is made more urgent as emerging
evidence suggests marine organisms may be responding faster to
climate change than land-based plants and animals. “As the climate is
warming, marine plants and animals are shifting towards the poles and
their timing of peak abundance is occurring earlier in the year,” he
said. “The slower dynamics of the ocean also means that some changes
such as ocean acidification will be irreversible this century.

“While understanding impacts of climate change in the oceans is
important, ultimately we need to develop adaptation options as the
knowledge-base expands,” Dr Richardson said.

National Research Flagships

CSIRO initiated the National Research Flagships to provide
science-based solutions in response to Australia’s major research
challenges and opportunities. The nine Flagships form
multidisciplinary teams with industry and the research community to
deliver impact and benefits for Australia.


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