(CN) – The world’s oceans are suffering from an increase in warming events, disrupting marine wildlife and threatening vast ecosystems, according to a study released Monday.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at 65 large marine ecosystems from 1854-2018 to determine the frequency of ocean temperature anomalies, including marine heatwaves.
The scientists discovered the frequency of such events happened at almost twice the rate that was expected.
“Across the 65 ecosystems we examined, we expected about six or seven of them would experience these ‘surprises’ each year,” said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Main Research Institute. “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.”
Researchers also studied the potential impacts such warming events can have on ocean life and humans.
When warmer conditions prevail, new species that prefer that environment move in to replace the species that had thrived there. While that may be true with gradual temperature changes, sudden warming events are a different story as these affected ecosystems are hit hard by reductions in diversity and biomass.
Moreover, the effects of more frequent warming events can make it difficult for humans to decide how to best protect oceanic life.
“As the planet continues to warm, ecosystems and human communities will adapt to the changing conditions,” Pershing said in a statement. “However, according to the scientists, it is unclear whether such adjustments will keep pace as the climate trends accelerate.”
The researchers found that basing decisions on previous weather and climate changes is not an effective strategy for saving marine life from the frequent warming events. Instead, the study suggests scientists use climate projections to better predict future climate change.
“We are entering a world where history is an unreliable guide for decision making,” Pershing said. “In a rapidly changing world, betting that trends will continue is a much better strategy.”