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Study reveals troubling changes in deep ocean waters: 'There is an urgent need for more and better monitoring'

There is no silver-bullet solution.

There is no silver-bullet solution.

Photo Credit: iStock

Increasing global temperatures are leading to a rise in marine heat waves, with consequences including extreme weather conditions, the melting of ice near the world's poles, and higher marine life mortality.

Now, a study has found that heat waves may last even longer in deeper waters, putting a number of sensitive species at risk.

What's happening?

Research published in the Nature Climate Change journal and summarized by Phys.org has examined the effect of more frequent and intense marine heat waves on deep water. Most studies until now have examined global heating's impact on surface temperatures.

Using modeling and on-site data — looking at figures from 1993 to 2019 up to 2,000 meters (about 6,562 feet) deep — the researchers discovered that heat wave intensity was highest between 50 and 200 meters (164 to 656 feet) below the surface and as much as 19% stronger.

Furthermore, the duration of heat waves was far longer in deeper waters, with the warmth persisting for up to two years after the surface returned to a more normal average temperature. 

Lead author of the study Eliza Fragkopoulou said biodiversity would be most affected between the surface and 250 meters (820 feet) deep.

"Considering that marine heat wave impacts on deep-sea biodiversity are still largely unknown, there is an urgent need for more and better monitoring of the global ocean to understand their effects," she told Agence France-Press, as Phys.org reports.

Why is this so concerning? 

Recent research has revealed the impact of warmer waters on crab species off the coast of São Paulo, Brazil. A 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit rise in sea surface temperature in the first three to four days of the mangrove fiddler crab's life led to a 15% drop in survival rate. Mortality went up 34% with a 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit increase.

Meanwhile, warmer waters can lead to coral bleaching, in which coral essential to the survival of small fish species and other organisms turn white and become more prone to disease. 

So, it's clear that heat can have a significant impact on marine mortality and surrounding ecosystems. Since the heat waves can affect even deep waters, creatures as far down as the sea bed are put in danger.

What can be done to prevent rising sea temperatures?

As Phys.org observed, oceans have taken in 90% of the excess heat produced by human-caused carbon pollution since the birth of industrial production. 

Reducing planet-warming pollution worldwide, then, is essential to the health and biodiversity of marine environments.

There is no silver-bullet solution, but steps such as reducing meat consumption, using public transportation instead of a car, and avoiding single-use plastics when possible can make a meaningful difference. 

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