Researchers reveal how Earth’s oxygen could collapse with ocean warming of just 6 degrees
The collapse of ocean oxygen production is far worse than the threat of sea level rise and flooding.
If true and not remedied Himalayan breathing masks may become a necessity in major cities.
The news is not all bad there is real hope to learn about at the end of this post.
A study of ocean plankton led by Sergei Petrovskii, Professor in Applied Mathematics (specializing in ecological mathematics) from the University of Leicester’s Department of Mathematics, has shown that an increase in the water temperature of the world’s oceans of around six degrees Celsius – which some scientists predict could occur as soon as 2100 – could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis. The paper Mathematical Modelling of Plankton–Oxygen Dynamics Under the Climate Change was published in late 2015 in the Journal Applied Mathematics.
Image above is an oxygen breathing station in Beijing.
“By 2100, the earth at sea level could have atmospheric oxygen levels comparable to the top of Mount Everest today. And as far as I know, people cannot normally stay on Everest without oxygen masks for more than a few minutes,” Petrovskii said.
Professor Petrovskii explained: “Global warming has been a focus of attention of science and politics for about two decades now. A lot has been said about its expected disastrous consequences; perhaps the most notorious is the global flooding that may result from melting of Antarctic ice if the warming exceeds a few degrees compared to the pre-industrial level. However, it now appears that this is probably not even close to the biggest danger that the warming can cause to the humanity.”
Additional support for the model comes from direct measurement of a mysterious decline of oxygen in the atmosphere. Within the past several years scientists have found that oxygen (O2) in the atmosphere has been dropping, and at higher rates than just the amount that goes into the increase of CO2 from burning fossil fuels, some 2 to 4-times as much, and accelerating since 2002-2003. Simultaneously, oxygen levels in the world’s oceans have also been falling in an expanding fashion for the past fifty years, and will continue into the foreseeable future.
The fundamental cause of oxygen decline in the oceans that has not been mentioned in many studies is the failure of phytoplankton in the oceans to regenerate oxygen by photosynthesis. Phytoplankton is responsible for most of the primary productivity in the oceans that supports the entire marine food web and accounts for the majority of the planet’s primary production from photosynthesis.
Phytoplankton grows more than a thousand times faster than green plants on land, turning over in 2 to 6 days compared to ~19 years on average for land plants, forests take centuries. However, collapse of vital mineral dust has interrupted and collapsed ocean primary productivity at a rate of 1% per year, this in turn had resulted in damaging feedback mechanisms of ocean warming and acidification which are further accelerating the catastrophic damage to the largest and most potent ecosystem on this blue planet the all important ocean pastures and their phytoplankton.
The threat has been “mostly overlooked by climate scientists”, Petrovskii said, “noting that such a global disaster would come with little notice.”
“A distinct feature of this catastrophe is that there will be few warning signs and little change before it is too late,” he said. “That’s because phytoplankton can continue to produce oxygen and photosynthesize at levels below 6 degrees of temperature rise. Under a 2-degree increase, we will probably see no change; the 4-degree increase would already be dangerously close.”
“About two-thirds of the planet’s total atmospheric oxygen is produced by ocean phytoplankton – and therefore cessation would result in the depletion of atmospheric oxygen on a global scale. This would likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans.”
The Leicester academic team developed a new mathematical ecology model of oxygen production in the ocean that takes into account one fundamental aspect of the ecology of ocean plankton pastures, surface sea temperature. While healthy ocean pastures feed all of ocean life they also perform a vital role in producing most of the world’s oxygen, even more importantly they control and sustain their favoured environment by performing ‘plankton cooling’ which they accomplish by creating clouds.
Clouds in our planets skies reflect 25% of the suns heat and much dangerous UV radiation back into space. In fact the majority of clouds that moderate the climate on our blue planet come from ocean pasture plankton blooms that require shelter from both heat and heat and UV sunburns. The University of Leicester team did not factor in plankton cooling clouds in their reported model; we hope they are working on model revisions that will do so.
Ocean plant life has been observed to be in cataclysmic decline for at least 50 years, that decline has amounted to 1% per year of ocean green plants disappearing leaving behind dying ocean pastures that are becoming blue deserts.
The principal cause of this collapse of ocean green plants is our high and rising CO2 that is creating a dramatic global greening across the lands of Earth. More grass growing means less dust blowing and it is dust in the wind that is vital for ocean pasture plant life, just as much as rain in the wind is vital for pastures on land.
Those blue deserts, our oceans, cover 72% of this blue planet so this is a very big problem. To put the ocean plant crisis into a terrestrial perspective in each 5 year span over the past 50 years an equivalent amount of ocean green plant life and photosynthesis has been eradicated as if we were to cut down the entire Amazon Rainforest. So add up the deadly toll, in the past 50 years we have eradicated the equivalent to 10 entire Amazon Rainforests! The world is full of alarm and concern about the state of the present day Amazon which has suffered a loss of just 20% of its trees.
Team Spirit ?
While mainstream research often focuses on the CO2 cycle, as carbon dioxide is the agent said to be mainly responsible for global warming, only a few researchers have explored the effects of global warming on oxygen production. In addition there is a widespread bias in the world of science which seems to be divided into ‘teams’ which are highly competitive and defensive.
Team “Earth” which has an overwhelming majority of members and fans is determined to represent ‘Earth-bound life’ as being the most important in spite of the fact that this is a blue planet.
Team “Ocean” suffers from having very few members and even fewer fans but does seem to have a clear claim on the fact that the vast majority of life on this blue planet, 95% of life, lives in the 72% of the planet that is oceans. The result of absurd competitive human nature overflowing into science is that the crisis in the ocean has been badly understated.
The misdirection of news and effort toward the trillion dollar climate change solutions while eschewing the low cost million dollar immediate and sustainable solution to the far greater crisis of loss of plankton cooling and ocean warming has a terrible consequence.
Our Ocean Hope Spot
It’s not to late to restore and regenerate ocean plankton, our greatest ally. The power of the ocean to manage it’s temperature and our entire planetary climate is far greater than commonly represented. It is not too late, by restoring ocean plant life to recent levels of health and abundance the ocean plankton can rapidly save itself and us!
Reference: The paper ‘Mathematical Modelling of Plankton–Oxygen Dynamics Under the Climate Change’ published in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology is available here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11538-015-0126-0