Even the plants and animals that live in the deepest reaches of the oceans won't escape the impacts of Earth's rapidly changing climate, according to a study released today by an international group of scientists.
More than a third of all seafloor-dwelling marine life in the North Atlantic Ocean, and as much as 5 percent of all such species worldwide, could be wiped out by the end of this century thanks to the warming and acidification of the oceans, the study found.
Published in the scientific journal Global Change Biology by scientists with the U.K.-based National Oceanography Centre, the study said the losses will be driven by a reduction in the plants and animals that live near the sea surface.
Because fewer of those species will sink to the ocean floor as food for deep sea marine life, those species in turn will decline. Whole ecosystems will change, the study also found, which could threaten fishing in many parts of the North Atlantic.
“We were expecting some negative changes around the world, but the extent of changes, particularly in the North Atlantic, were staggering," the study's lead author, Dr. Daniel Jones, said in a press release. "Globally we are talking about losses of marine life weighing more than every person on the planet put together.”
While the changes won't be uniform across the planet, more than 80 percent of the world's ocean habitats – places like cold-water coral reefs, ocean canyons and seamounts, or mountains that rise from the ocean floor but don't reach the surface – will suffer some degree of species loss.
The study also predicts that in general, marine life will get smaller in response to changes in the oceans' temperature and chemistry.
Read the full study at Global Change Biology.Follow @terrellwrites
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A Hawksbill sea turtle swims in the waters off Lady Elliot Island, Australia, in January 2012. The world's changing climate is forcing ocean species like sea turtles to migrate to cooler places at a pace nearly 10 times faster than is happening with species on land. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)