Coastal Sustainability Institute > News Archive > Climate change could destroy 95% of surface ocean conditions

Climate change could destroy 95% of surface ocean conditions

The vast majority of the world’s oceans may never be the same if humanity doesn’t curb our carbon emissions.

As much as 95% of the climates in the surface ocean that exist today could completely disappear within 80 years, according to new research led by Katie Lotterhos, associate professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern. That means that the creatures that live there could soon be subject to conditions that they have never experienced—and some of those conditions might literally erode their skeletons and shells.

The surface ocean is the swath of seawater that reaches from where air meets water down to a depth of about 330 feet. It’s a section of the seas that interacts directly with the elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. That seawater absorbs the carbon dioxide that’s in the air until the two come into equilibrium, so the more CO2 there is in the atmosphere, the more CO2 there is in the surface ocean.

Lotterhos and her colleagues wanted to determine just how much of the global surface ocean might be altered by climate change. So they used atmospheric carbon dioxide data to model what the global ocean climates might look like by the year 2100 under two scenarios: one in which emissions peak in 2050 and then are slowed, and another scenario that is more “business-as-usual” with emissions peaking in 2100. They also worked backward and modeled how the global ocean surface climate had changed from the year 1800 to 2000. Their resultswere published in the journal Scientific Reports on Aug. 26.

Lotterhos was studying two different things. She was looking for points around the globe where existing conditions were at risk of disappearing entirely; and places where conditions that had never been experienced (or at least hadn’t been experienced since 1800) were currently emerging or might emerge by 2100.

Read more at Northeastern Global News.

Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.

Author: Eva Botkin-Kowacki