New Environmental Threat: Ocean Dead Zones Threaten To Eradicate Oxygen

Ocean Dead Zones Much Worse Than Previously Thought–Vast Regions Devoid Of Life Could Soon Be The New Normal

Stephen King wrote a novel called “The Dead Zone” in 1979, but the horrors he imagined are nothing compared to a new dead zone that scientists are only just now beginning to grapple with.

These zones of death are areas of the ocean where the oxygen has been so depleted due to climate change and the warming of the water that life cannot continue to function there as it has for millions of years.

According to the new data, parts of the southern Indian ocean, the eastern tropical Pacific and the Atlantic are already less oxygen-rich than they have ever been historically, due to global climate change. The frightening conclusion: oxygen deprivation could become increasingly widespread across vast regions of the world’s oceans by 2030 or 2040, which would have devastating effects on marine life, human life, in terms of our ability to feed ourselves, and also will exacerbate the effects of global warming.

We can think of the oceans as a massive carbon dioxide sink, where a lot of the excess CO2 we are releasing into the atmosphere via fossil fuel consumption ultimately winds up. These changes are making the water more acidic, warmer, and less oxygenated, which in turn can grow so bad that it creates the dead zones where no fish or shellfish can survive.

In this most recent study, Matthew Long, an oceanographer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colorado, has modeled the changes in the ocean’s oxygen content dating from 1910 through 2100. Based on his research, the occurrence of dead zones in the ocean will only grow worse over time.

“Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side-effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to life,” he said.

The problem is that oxygen from the atmosphere only gets into the ocean waters when it dissolves directly, or is released by photosynthesizing marine plants and phytoplankton. And you guessed it, the warmer the water is, the harder life is for the creatures nearer the surface. Add to this the compounding factor that the warmer the water is near the surface, the more difficult it is for cooler, more oxygenated water beneath to rise to the surface.

Hence, the dead zones, unlike anything Mr. King predicted, and conceivably much more perilous.

The damage we are perpetually doing to the oceans is hard to comprehend. Some estimates say that the world’s fishing fleet is 50 to 60 percent larger than the ocean can support sustainably, and already we are seeing entire species nearly fished to extinction. Add to that injury the insult of global warming killing the very atmosphere that allows fish to live and we could well be staring down the barrel of a global catastrophe.

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