Enormous disruption is predicted for the California Current marine ecosystem, which runs the length of the West Coast and is considered one of the most rich and abundant ocean regions in the world.
Some of the most important species that live in that zone will experience major changes by the end of the century, in some cases facing a 25% lower chance of survival, a new study found.
“Everything from plankton and seaweeds to fish and marine mammals and birds, all of that is dependent on the health or condition of the California Current system,” said Terrie Klinger, a co-author of the study at the University of Washington.
All of those species will face immense challenges.
The study took into account expected changes to water temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide predicted by the end of the century and examined how those differences will impact a total of 12 important species — including Dungeness crab, anchovy, red sea urchin and kelp — in terms of their ability to survive, as well as their ability to grow, move, take in oxygen and consume food.
The California Current
The California Current refers to both the flow of water from British Columbia to the Mexico border as well as the area that runs 1,900 miles north to south and 220 miles out to sea around that current.
The researchers aggregated the data of many previous studies and, in particular, used high-resolution information available off the coast of Oregon, Washington and some of Vancouver Island. But the results apply to the entire West Coast, Klinger said.
Comparing conditions in 2002-04 to 2094-96, they ended up with a complex picture that includes both positive and negative outcomes for marine life.
“Even though you see positive and negative responses, when you dig in to what those look like you see that there is going to be ecological change,” said lead author Jennifer Sunday of McGill University. Most of all, she said, “whenever survival was looked at, it was either neutral or decreasing.”
The study also looked at outcomes for pink salmon, razor clam, sablefish, Alaska pink shrimp, ochre sea star, several types of rockfish and seagrass. The species with the lowest predicted survival rates were razor clam, red sea urchin, Dungeness crab and kelp. Yet many of those species also should see increases in their movement and metabolic rates.
Though survival rates are generally the most important, being able to foresee other biological changes among different species could help scientists predict changes in the food web — for example, when a predator might eat up another population quickly because its metabolic rate has increased, Sunday said.
And while the research could help fish and wildlife managers make planning decisions, the only real solution is to cut back on fossil fuel consumption to halt additional global warming, the authors say.
(Sorry I don’t bite this… They should stop spraying dangerous chemicals in the air we breathe…)
Not all of the news was bad. For example, the kelp forest, an important habitat to many types of marine mammals, fish and shellfish, is expected to grow faster as the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide, though its growth is also cut short when the ocean warms.
“The question then becomes, when you have these kind of competing pressures, one good, one bad — what ultimately wins out?” said Elliott Hazen, an ecologist with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Monterey, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who was not involved in the study.
Some will depend on how quickly certain conditions change and whether wildlife have a chance to adapt. For example, if its habitat changes slowly enough, Dungeness crab theoretically could move to new areas that are better, Hazen said.
“What tends to be more difficult are the rapid episodic changes that accompany that slow change,” he said. “If you all of a sudden have a low-oxygen event, you’re going to have potential for more die-offs because the Dungeness crab aren’t able to get outside quick enough.”
An example of rapid change that happened recently in the California Current was a marine heat wave in 2014-16 that led to the destruction of 95% of the kelp forest on the Sonoma-Mendocino Coast, Hazen said.
A long but interesting video about this very important ecosystem for fisheries and local businesses…
Climate change will have the biggest impact at the northern part of the California Current because of comparative changes in the chemistry of the source water in the north, but that doesn’t take away from the implications for the rest of the West Coast, Klinger said.
That’s partly because it’s all connected by the California Current, in which food resources, ocean temperatures and even tiny larvae are dispersed from Washington to Southern California.
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