Investigators from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Stanford University say that climate change will force the vast majority of critical marine ecosystems in the Pacific Ocean to migrate by several hundred miles, by 2100.
Marine habitat shift is a phenomenon that occurs naturally as well, in response to a wide variety of natural and anthropogenic factors. However, experts are expecting to see massive changes in the oceans over the next 90 years or so, primarily on account of the warming waters and oceanic acidification.
Knowing about this in advance is very important, the team says, since the data could inform future decisions on conservation and resource exploitation. Coupling this shift with marine species decline paints a rather bleak picture of the future.
Details of the new research effort appear in a paper entitled “Predicted habitat shifts of Pacific top predators in a changing climate,” which was published in the September 23 issue of the top scientific journal Nature Climate Change
Researchers mostly focused on predators, since they represent an important link in the food chain. These creatures will eventually have to travel for hundreds of miles in any direction to find the food they evolved to consume.
If supplies are scarce, then a steep decline in population numbers is expected to occur. The research team was able to create a distribution of various open-ocean animals during this study, and this should provide a point for comparison with future studies on how the predators move in search of prey.
“For species already stressed by overfishing or other human impacts, increased migration time and loss of habitat could be a heavy blow,” explains NOAA project researcher Elliott Hazen, who also holds an appointment as a scientist at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions.
“But if we can build some plausible scenarios of how marine ecosystems may change, this may help efforts to prioritize and proactively manage them,” he goes on to say.
“Modeling of future scenarios is used in national security, financial investing and other critical areas,” adds the science director of the Center for Ocean Solutions, Larry Crowder.
Experts from the Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment and Hopkins Marine Station, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute were also a part of the new study.