'Surprise' Ocean Heat Waves Are Twice as Common as Previously Thought
Heat waves have had people sweltering all summer, but they are not just on land. It turns out that ocean heat waves, which can threaten corals, fish, plankton and other marine life, are occurring far more frequently than previously thought, according to a study published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as Gizmodo reported.
The study shows that the climate crisis is causing ocean water temperatures to rise above their normal ranges, which the authors dub "surprise" conditions that can prove deadly to fisheries and the livelihoods dependent on them. "We show that the frequency of surprising ocean temperatures has increased even faster than expected based on recent temperature trends," the authors wrote.
In order to adapt to the changing oceans, people will have to alter their behavior, which can prove tricky. "Based on historical and lived experience, people expect certain conditions to prevail in the ecosystems they depend upon," the authors wrote in the study. "Climate change is now introducing strong trends that push conditions beyond historic levels."
That adaptation will have to happen rapidly, since the ocean surprises are happening at twice the rate the scientist's had expected.
"Across the 65 ecosystems we examined, we expected about six or seven of them would experience these 'surprises' each year," said Andrew Pershing, the study's lead author and chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, in a statement reported by Court House News. "Instead, we've seen an average of 12 ecosystems experiencing these warming events each year over the past seven years, including a high of 23 'surprises' in 2016."
The sudden shifts in temperature can threaten oceanic biomass and diversity. Once surprise event happens, it can last for weeks or even month, which may kill off kelp forests and corals. There is a human impact too as the surprise events not only add to global warming, but also harm fishing and aquaculture industries, according to the London Economic.
To conduct the study, researchers looked at annual temperature data for 65 large marine ecosystems collected since 1900. They ran a comparison of a given year to the 30 years prior to it, which allowed them to calculate a running average of normal temperatures. Years where the water temperature was two standard deviations warmer (or colder) than normal were labeled a "surprise," as Gizmodo reported.
The results show a drastic surge in "surprises" since 1980, particularly in the Arctic and the Atlantic. As predicted, like global surface temperatures, most of the "surprises" were of hotter-than-normal variety. Only four cold surprises occurred since 2000. Furthermore, the frequency of hot surprises has ramped up since to since 2010 in the Pacific and Indian oceans as well, according to Gizmodo.
The surprise conditions that decimate ecosystems will also wreck the livelihoods of people dependent on those ecosystems, from villagers on tropical islands who catch fish for their families to industries in Pacific and Gulf of Mexico hotspots that have seen crabs and lobsters vanish. The study incorporated an economic model and found that people who look forward outperform those who rely on historical trends.
"We are entering a world where history is an unreliable guide for decision making, said Pershing, as the London Economic reported. "In a rapidly changing world, betting that trends will continue is a much better strategy."
Correction: This article has been corrected for the following reason. Andrew Pershing works at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, not the Gulf of Main Research Institute.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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