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Climate Change Could Impact 12 New Deep-Sea Species

Climate Change Could Impact 12 New Deep-Sea Species
Researchers have discovered at least 12 new deep-sea species in the Atlantic Ocean. cosmin4000 / Getty Images

At least twelve deep-sea species were recently discovered in the Atlantic, BBC News reported. After five years of research, scientists of the ATLAS Project, a transatlantic assessment and deep-water management plan for Europe, discovered new species of sea mosses, molluscs and corals.

Although much of the deep sea remains unexplored, researchers warn that the impacts of climate change, like ocean acidification, could threaten deep-sea species and their habitats.

"We can still say we have better maps of the surface of the Moon and Mars than of the sea floor," Professor George Wolff, an ocean chemist from the University of Liverpool, told BBC News. "So whenever you go to the deep ocean, you find something new — not just individual species but entire ecosystems."

Professor Murray Roberts from the University of Edinburgh described the importance of deep-sea communities, such as those created by corals and sponges.

"If those cities are damaged by destructive human uses, those fish have nowhere to spawn and the function of those whole ecosystems is lost for future generations," Roberts told BBC News. "It's like understanding that the rainforest is an important place for biodiversity on the land; the same is true of the deep sea — there are important places that need to be protected and, crucially, they are all connected."

Protecting these places, however, could become increasingly difficult. The ATLAS researchers also found that ocean acidification, caused by an increase in carbon dioxide, reduces deep-sea habitats, BBC News reported.

Over the past two centuries, the ocean has absorbed nearly one-third of all emissions, according to research by The Ocean Foundation. This has led the ocean's surface to acidify at an increasing rate.

"The ocean plays a fundamental role in mitigating climate change by serving as a major heat and carbon sink," The Ocean Foundation wrote on its site. "The ocean also bears the brunt of climate change, as evidenced by changes in temperature, currents and sea level rise, all of which affect the health of marine species, nearshore and deep ocean ecosystems."

In their research, the ATLAS team found nearly 50 percent of the cold-water coral habitats were at risk of ocean acidification, the International Business Times reported. They also found that ocean acidification and fisheries threaten nearly 19 percent of deep-sea ecosystems.

Deep-sea corals are among those threatened, as they are growing more brittle as the ocean becomes more acidic, a recent study published by Frontiers in Marine Science found.

The Marine Science study sampled live corals and compared them to weakened human skeletons that suffered from osteoporosis. The results found that crumbling corals weakened similarly to human bones, according to Science Daily.

"By being able to adapt strategies to coral reefs that are used routinely to monitor osteoporosis and assess bone fracture risk, we may have powerful non-invasive tools at our disposal to monitor these fragile ecosystems," Dr. Uwe Wolfram of Heriot-Watt University told Science Daily.

The push to understand deep-sea ecosystems coincides with the beginning of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, set to begin in 2021.

In 2017, the United Nations announced an upcoming framework to ensure the protection and sustainable use of the ocean. Running until 2030, the program aims to mobilize communities to deepen their scientific understanding of the ocean and form science-based policies and mitigation strategies.

"The deep ocean can be so out of sight and out of mind that we're not really aware of what we're doing to its environments and the consequences of what we do," Professor Claire Armstrong, a natural resource economist from the University of Tromsø, told BBC News. "The value of all this knowledge is that it enables us to understand what we might risk losing."

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