The world’s oceans are struggling to breathe, rapidly running out of oxygen at an unprecedented rate. Climate change is dangerously exacerbating the issue, scientists warned in a new study.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released the largest report of its kind — combining the efforts of 67 scientists from 17 countries — at the global climate summit in Madrid on Saturday. It found that the oxygen level of the ocean has declined by about 2% since the 1950s, and the volume of water completely depleted of oxygen has quadrupled since the 1960s.
Sixty years ago, only 45 ocean sites suffered from low oxygen levels. That number skyrocketed to 700 in 2011. According to the study, about 50% of oxygen loss in the upper part of the ocean is a result of temperature increase.
“With this report, the scale of damage climate change is wreaking upon the ocean comes into stark focus,” Dr. Grethel Aguilar, IUCN acting director general, said in a statement. “As the warming ocean loses oxygen, the delicate balance of marine life is thrown into disarray.”
A combination of climate change and increased nutrient discharge will cause a 3%-4% decrease in ocean oxygen levels on average by 2100 if business continues as usual, scientists predict.
“This is perhaps the ultimate wake-up call from the uncontrolled experiment humanity is unleashing on the world’s ocean as carbon emissions continue to increase,” said Dan Laffoley, Senior Advisor Marine Science and Conservation in IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Program and a co-editor of the report.
Humans seem to assume that this really doesn’t affect them. But the future of humans as a species is also threatened by this and everything else we have done to the planet. Humans are among the planet’s most adaptable species, but there’s no reason to think that we could also not go extinct if this continues unabated. And it is continuing unabated.