New Study: Marine Life Rapidly Migrating to Poles

    August 7, 2013

A new study published in the journal of Nature and Climate Change may generate some controversial discussion: the rising ocean temperatures are pushing marine creatures 7 km (just over 3 mi) a year in the direction of the cooler water.

The scientists who participated in the research are from 17 different institutions located in the United States, Canada, the UK, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Australia, and South Africa. ABC Australia quotes the team’s leader, Dr. Elvira Poloczanska, expressing her surprise at the rapidity of the migration.

“We knew that changes were happening, but we didn’t expect them to be so pervasive… We didn’t expect to pick up changes in every single ocean and we certainly didn’t expect the changes to be as rapid as we’re seeing,” she said.

The Guardian shared words with Dr. Christopher Brown, a post-doctoral research fellow from the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute and a participant in the study: “One of the unique things about this study is that we’ve looked at everything… We covered every link in the food chain and we found there were changes in marine life that were consistent with climate change across all the world’s oceans and across all those different links in the food chain.”

The noteworthy changes in the study are hardly limited to the locations where marine species live, but also how they live. The study shows that breeding and seasonal migrations are taking place as soon as 4 days earlier than typically expected. In spite of the fact that the Earth’s resilient oceans are acting as a powerful heat sink, readers should be reminded that these kinds of changes are much more intense than any such changes recorded for land-based counterparts.

Warmer waters shorten the marine winter, which brings about earlier spring and all the various seasonal changes that accompany it. Species that can’t travel, like shellfish and barnacles which depend on coastlines, will be threatened by the rising temperatures. Dr. Brown: “If they’re already at the edge of the range there’s nowhere for them to go. You could potentially lose those [species].”

The study authors concluded that 19 percent of their observations conflicted with the climate change hypothesis. Dr. Brown notes that fisheries may need to move their ports to keep up with their money-earning fish, but even if humans actually reduced their emissions right now, the oceans would need at least another couple decades to heal its scars.