Posted on 23/02/2017 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

Turning up the heat on global hotspots of marine biodiversity

The year 2016 has been the hottest on record, reflecting a generally rising trend in the Earth’s temperature. Understanding the global distribution of these changes is extremely important to be able to assess the threats that local ecosystems must face.

Is this trend the same everywhere around the world? How can this be determined in an environment as remote, vast and inaccessible as the ocean? This challenge was taken up by scientists from Spain, Australia and New Zealand in a paper published in Science Advances this week, which determined that there are places where the temperature increase and associated environmental changes have been much greater than elsewhere.

“We are living in exciting times when remote sensing data are readily available for us to look at our planet from the right perspective”, says Dr Fran Ramirez, a research scientist at Estación Biológica de Doñana in Spain, and the senior author of the paper.

The research team took advantage of data gathered over more than 30 years from a whole constellation of satellites orbiting our planet and imaging its surface, conducting the study at the finest scale ever analysed, down to within just a few kilometres.

The team was able to use this information to determine how the temperature, productivity (measured in the concentration of chlorophyll-a) and currents of our oceans have changed over the last three decades for the entire planet.

The researchers were not surprised to find that climate-driven environmental changes are not evenly distributed. However, by overlaying the areas affected by climate-driven change with areas of high biodiversity, they were able to identify particularly vulnerable areas of ocean located near the poles and the equator.

For instance, the North Sea, between America and Europe, and all the marine areas connected by the Labrador Current have experienced one of the largest global increases in ocean temperature. Near the equator, there has been a large increase in the velocity of marine currents. All of these changes are likely to affect the marine organisms living in those places.

“It provides a great tool, an index of accumulative effect for every remote corner of the planet, which may help to identify and mitigate the effect of climate change on crucial biodiversity hotspots”, explains a co-author of this study, Dr André Chiaradia, research scientist at Phillip Island Nature Parks in Australia.

This study contributes to the international effort to mitigate the causes and consequences of climate change.

View and download the full paper here

global biodiversity

water temperature