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How climate change could drive killer cold blasts in the oceans

How climate change could drive killer cold blasts in the oceans



It's not just ocean heat that's affecting marine life, new research shows that extremely cold events are breaking out and causing mass die-offs. And the same planet-warming pollution that's driving the climate crisis is likely to blame for these killer events at the other end of the temperature spectrum.

The world's oceans have been plagued by unprecedented heat over the past year, prompting concerns for marine life. Billions of crabs went extinct in the North Pacific; sea ​​lions and dolphins are bathing sick; iconic coral reefs are undergoing mass bleaching.

But even as ocean temperatures rise, extremely cold upwelling events when strong winds and ocean currents bring pockets of cold water to the surface, replacing the warm water that was there, are also becoming more frequent and intense. threatening marine life, according to STUDY published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Climate change is actually very complex, said Nicolas Lubitz, the study's lead author and a researcher at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. It's not just global warming, it's really changing the way our oceans work.

When Lubitz heard reports of marine animals such as sharks, manta rays and squid being washed up on South Africa's southeast coast in March 2021, he began investigating. More than 260 marine animals from 81 different species died in that extreme event.

He said seasonal surge events are common in the area, with water temperatures dropping quickly. But Lubitz said the March 2021 die-off was a pretty extreme event because we had pretty warm water before it happened.

And then the winds changed, and the currents started to change a little bit, which is a seasonal thing, he added. Then all of a sudden, the temperature within 24 hours dropped by 11 degrees.

Researchers analyzed killer surge events in the Indian Ocean Agulhas Current and East Australian Current, using 41 years of sea surface temperature data and 33 years of wind data to see just how deadly cold extremes can be. the ocean.

“We were seeing changes in how often upwelling occurs, how intense it is, which can affect the fishing communities in these areas,” he said. It's really an economic thing as well as a biodiversity thing.

According to the study, the mortality of a cold event is likely to be related to the speed of the temperature decrease. If the cold event lasts for many days, which has happened more often, research shows that marine animals, including turtles and many species of fish, can suffer from hypothermia and physiological dysfunction or eventually die.

For another study, Lubitz already had bull sharks electronically tagged with a transmitter location device, which also recorded the depth and temperature of the part of the ocean where they swam.

That was really the key in this study in that we could see when sharks migrate, he said. We could see how the temperature profiles changed and how the sharks were swimming shallower when they were in high areas because they were trying to avoid the colder water from the depths.

The findings provide a very plausible explanation for many unexpected marine mortality events that people have seen around the world, said Ajit Subramaniam, research professor with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of the Climate Schools at Columbia University.

It's one of those unexpected findings and it's not something we talk about a lot, Subramaniam, who was not involved in the study, told CNN. So this is a fitting reminder that the climate crisis works both ways.




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