New Study Reveals Impact of Global Warming on Marine Life

While the effect of climate change on land animal species is well-documented, our understanding of the way that climate change impacts marine life has been limited—until now. A recent study undertaken by scientists at 17 institutions across the world revealed startling impacts.

Notably, evidence showed that phytoplankton, zooplankton and bony fish are moving toward the poles at an average rate of 72 kilometers per decade, compared with the terrestrial average of 6 kilometers per decade.

Professor Camille Parmesan, the National Marine Aquarium Chair in Public Understanding of Oceans and Human Health at Plymouth University’s Marine Institute said: “This is the first comprehensive documentation of what is happening in our marine systems in relation to climate change. What it reveals is that the changes that are occurring on land are being matched by the oceans. And far from being a buffer and displaying more minor changes, what we’re seeing is a far stronger response from the oceans.”

Funded by the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in California, the study will make up part of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change Assessment Report, to be published in 2014. As part of the study, researchers assembled 1,735 changes in marine life from peer-reviewed literature. They found that 81% of changes were consistent with climate change.

The study also found that spring phenology—a measurement of when different events occur in the life cycles of species--had, on average, advanced by more than four days, meaning species were spawning four days earlier.

As one researcher articulated, “Most of the effects we saw were as expected from changes in climate. So, most shifts in the distribution of, say, fishes and corals, were towards the poles, and most events in springtime, like spawning, were earlier.”

Another added: "These results highlight the urgent need for governments around the globe to develop adaptive management plans to ensure the continued sustainability of the world's oceans and the goods and services they provide to human society."