Quantcast
Climate
Algae bloom in the Arabian sea. Norman Kuring / NASA

Oceans Losing Oxygen at Breathtaking Speeds

Ocean dead zones quadrupled in size since 1950, while low oxygen sites around the world increased tenfold, threatening large swaths of marine life, scientists warned in a study released on Friday.

"Major extinction events in Earth's history have been associated with warm climates and oxygen-deficient oceans," the analysis published in the journal Science stated.


"Under the current trajectory that is where we would be headed. But the consequences to humans of staying on that trajectory are so dire that it is hard to imagine we would go quite that far down that path," Denise Breitburg, an author of the study and researcher at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the U.S., told the Guardian.

Human activities are largely responsible for the growth of ocean dead zones. Climate change, caused by fossil fuel emissions, is behind the large-scale removal of oxygen in open waters. Open oceans have naturally low oxygen areas that typically lay west of continents due to the Earth's rotation.

Coastal zones, which provide jobs to 350 million people, are now home to at least 500 known dead zones, though that number could be much higher. According to the study, these areas have increased by an area roughly the size of the European Union since 1950, when there were 50 reported around the world.

This global map indicates coastal sites where industrial activity, including large-scale and chemical-intense farming, are suffocating ocean life. International Oceanographic Commission / Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

In coastal regions, algae blooms are the main culprits behind dead zones. Manure, sewage and fertilizers create these blooms. When the algae decomposes it sucks oxygen out of the water.

"This is a problem we can solve," Breitburg told the Guardian, pointing to the River Thames in the UK and the Chesapeake Bay in the U.S., where improved sewage and agricultural practices helped remove dead zones.

"Right now, the increasing expansion of coastal dead zones and decline in open ocean oxygen are not priority problems for governments around the world. Unfortunately, it will take severe and persistent mortality of fisheries for the seriousness of low oxygen to be realized," Robert Diaz, a professor at the Virginia institute of Marine Science who reviewed the study, told the Guardian.

"No other variable of such ecological importance to coastal ecosystems has changed so drastically in such a short period of time from human activities as dissolved oxygen," Diaz said.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Energy
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cross the Greenbrier River in West Virginia. West Virginia Rivers Coalition / YouTube screenshot

Court Orders Atlantic Coast Pipeline Work Stoppage Over Impact on Endangered Species

Work on the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas along a 600 mile route through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, has been halted by court order and may not resume for several months, The News & Observer reported Monday.

A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia ruled on Friday that work must stop on the pipeline until March, when courts are set to review federal permits that allow the pipeline to operate in the habitat of four endangered species, which wildlife advocates say were rushed.

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
Researchers found that the response of corals to heat stress during the second of two unprecedentedback-to-back bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef was markedly different from the first. Tane Sinclair-Taylor

Great Barrier Reefs Resist Back-to-Back Bleaching Events Through ‘Ecological Memory’

The Great Barrier Reef has been hit hard by climate change. As waters warm, the higher ocean temperatures force the coral to expel the algae that lives inside of it, providing it with both its nutrients and its brilliant colors. If the water does not cool fast enough and the algae does not return, the coral dies.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Sit-in at Rep. Hoyer's office. Sunrise Movement

1,000+ Youth Activists Storm Capitol to Demand Green New Deal

More than 1,000 climate activists with the youth-led Sunrise Movement stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington and participated in sit-ins at Democratic leaders' offices on Monday.

The protesters demanded Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim McGovern support Rep-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's proposal of a "select committee" for a Green New Deal before the winter recess.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The Stikine River runs through Wrangell, Alaska. Mining operations nearby threaten to poison fish in the Stikine watershed and destroy the traditions and livelihoods of Southeast Alaskan Tribes. Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Canada as Ugly Neighbor: Mines in BC Would Devastate Alaskan Tribes

By Ramin Pejan

Mining operations in Canada are threatening to destroy the way of life of Southeast Alaskan Tribes who were never consulted about the mines by the governments of Canada or British Columbia.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Business
Deforestation on peatland for palm oil plantation in Borneo, Indonesia. glennhurowitz / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

World's Largest Palm Oil Trader Ramps Up Zero-Deforestation Efforts

The world's largest palm oil trader released plans on Monday to increase its efforts to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain.

Wilmar International, which supplies 40 percent of the world's palm oil, has teamed up with the sustainability consultancy Aidenvironment Asia to develop a comprehensive mapping database to better monitor the company's palm oil supplier group.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The Elkhorn Slough Reserve is one of California's few remaining coastal wetlands. Edmund Lowe Photography / Moment / Getty Images

New EPA Rule Would Sabotage Clean Water Act

By Jake Johnson

In a move environmentalists are warning will seriously endanger drinking water and wildlife nationwide, President Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reportedly gearing up to hand yet another gift to big polluters by drastically curtailing the number of waterways and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
James Braund / Getty Images

40 Acres of Farm Land in America Is Lost to Development Every Hour

By Brian Barth

Picture bulldozers plowing up pastures and cornfields to put in subdivisions and strip malls. Add to this picture the fact that the average age of the American farmer is nearly 60—it's often retiring farmers that sell to real estate developers. They can afford to pay much more for property than aspiring young farmers.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy

60,000 Liters of Oil Spills From Pipeline Into Brazilian Bay

About 60,000 liters (15,850 gallons) of oil spilled from a pipeline into the Estrela River and spread to Rio de Janeiro's famed Guanabara Bay over the weekend, according to Reuters and local reports.

The pipeline is owned by Transpetro, the largest oil and gas transportation company in Brazil, and a subsidiary of Petroleo Brasileiro (commonly known as Petrobras). Transpetro claims the leak resulted from an attempted robbery.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!