A major paper in the Journal Nature reports on stunning 2% decline in ocean oxygen in just 50 years, it will plummet to a 7% loss before the end of this century!
Earth’s Age of Oxygen coming to an end?
Only 15% of the decline is associated with global/ocean warming, something is far more fundamentally wrong with the ocean’s oxygen.
What might be done? Natural, not artificial, respiration is needed immediately! Only ocean restoration can provide the oxygen respiration this blue planet needs.
A massive synthesis of ocean science just published its report on the 2% decline in the amount of dissolved oxygen in all of the world’s oceans. The paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature by oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko and two colleagues from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, reports on the decline of more than 2 percent in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010. The loss, however, is worse than this global average in some oceans. The largest overall volume of oxygen was lost in the Pacific ocean but as a percentage, the decline greatest in the Arctic Ocean.
Remarkably while ‘climate change’ aka global warming has long been touted as predicting such a decline in ocean oxygen due to ocean warming the report shows that a mere 15% is due to the warming effects that reduce the capacity of ocean water to hold oxygen. There is something far more fundamentally powerful that is causing the oceans to lose their life-sustaining oxygen.
Oceans Make The Majority Of The World’s Oxygen
As much as it has been the fashion of terrestrial science to report that the ‘lungs of the earth’ are its terrestrial rainforests which have been said to make half of the oxygen we breathe, the fact is that the oceans produce the vast majority of our oxygen, perhaps 8 out of every 10 breaths you breathe comes from ocean plant-life and photosynthesis. Numerous scientific papers have revealed that ocean photosynthesis is down by at least 40% in the past 50 years. All of that lost photosynthesis was producing prodigious amounts of ocean oxygen that is now clearly seen to be missing.
To put our Blue Planet’s oxygen into a geologic time context over the past million years the oxygen content here on Earth dropped, but it did so by a mere 0.7%! That’s ~1/3 of the reported recent drop and 1/10th of what this report suggests might happen by the end of this century when the 7% loss has occurred. That’s the ‘million to one’ bet against us, or rather against our great grandchildren, that looks to be a sure thing if we do nothing but sit back and engaged in endless argument.
Want a more personal context? Oxygen levels in your air is said to be about 20-21% globally, but it varies greatly and in many cities, even some at sea level, the O2 level is already down to 12%! At 8% O2 human’s and most higher life suffocates. Do the math, is the hometown of you and your grandchildren able to sustain life with a 7% decline in oxygen during the remaining of this century? Seems to me that 12-7=5, yikes that is not good. 🙁 Ed note: This is overly simplified science but about what one can do in a blog as the air/sea flux of oxygen is terribly complex.):
Ocean oxygen is vital to all life including marine organisms, but also very complex to define in the marine world — unlike in the atmosphere, where gases mix together vigorously and thoroughly, in the ocean that is far harder to accomplish, Schmidtko explained. Moreover, he added, just 1 percent of all the Earth’s available oxygen dissolves down into the ocean. The ocean sends far more oxygen into the air than it takes in. Most experts agree that the air gets ~85% of its oxygen from the oceans. This makes sense as the atmosphere contains about 1 billion tonnes of oxygen while the oceans contain as much as 100-1000 billion tonnes of oxygen. It’s ocean oxygen that fuels this planet, and its ocean plants that make that oxygen.
Climate change, aka global warming, models predict that with ocean warming they will lose oxygen. The obvious simple physics is that warmer water has the capacity to hold less oxygen. “It’s the same reason we keep our sparkling drinks pretty cold,” Schmidtko said. But the report shows that this global warming ocean warming effect is far from the answer to the global ocean oxygen emergency.
Oxygen in the ocean comes from the atmosphere (a small contribution) and from the photosynthetic activity of marine microorganisms – the major contribution. Ocean oxygen production takes place exclusively in the sunlit zone near the surface where ocean pasture grass, the phytoplankton grow and repurpose CO2 into new biomass and oxygen. But as that sunlit upper oxygen producing layer warms up, the oxygen-rich waters are less likely to mix down into cooler layers of the ocean because the warm waters are less dense and do not sink as readily.
Ocean phyto-plankton evolved to not only produce more plankton and oxygen but also to create and sustain its environment that it needs to survive. Ocean pasture plankton are the principal source of cloud nucleating particles that keep this Blue Planet in the Goldilock’s Zone of our solar system. The earth is just a wee bit too far into the hot zone of our sun and the phytoplankton clouds have evolved the means to provide us with cooling shade so that we are neither tooo hot nor tooo cold, but ahhh just right.
The new study represents a synthesis of literally “millions” of separate ocean measurements over time, according to researchers.
Matthew Long, an oceanographer from the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has published on ocean oxygen loss, said he considers the new results “robust” and a “major advance in synthesizing observations to examine oxygen trends on a global scale.”
Long’s research had previously demonstrated that ocean oxygen loss was expected to occur and that it should soon be possible to demonstrate that in the real world through measurements, despite the complexities involved in studying the global ocean and deducing trends about it.
“That’s just what the new study has done” , he says.
The synthesis of all available done in this new paper show a global-scale decline in oxygen that conforms to the patterns we expect from human-driven ocean change. The study defers pointing a single finger of blame, but it is strongly pointing at human-driven ocean collapse as a root cause of the oxygen decline.
The new study underscores once again that the most profound consequences of high and rising CO2 are occurring in the oceans, rather than on land.
“It is alarming to see this signal begin to emerge clearly in the observational data,” says Long.
“Far-reaching implications for marine ecosystems and fisheries can be expected,” write the researchers.
There is only one thing that might be done! Save the oceans with natural, not artificial, respiration.
That hope, perhaps our last hope, is to restore and sustain ocean pastures and their oxygen producing plankton. In restoring the oceans to historic levels of health and abundance their, and our, vital oxygen might be restored as opposed to being lost. You can read everywhere on this blog about how we have proven we can restore our oceans to health and how the Voyages of Recovery on behalf of this Blue Planet’s ocean pastures have begun. Join me.