Sea change as plankton head north
DRAMATIC and extraordinary changes in the kinds of plankton living in British waters as a result of climate change are having a profound effect on all marine life, according to a "disturbing" report.
The first "annual report card" by a group of government scientists and leading academics involved in studying the sea, published today, provides an assessment of the state of UK waters. It details rising sea levels, an increase in storms and acidity and a rise in salt levels in surface sea water.
It also reports a major shift in the types of plankton - the fundamental building block of most marine animal life - found off the coast of Britain. Species found off the coast of Brittany 40 years ago have gradually drifted 600 miles north to southern Scotland as seas have warmed.
And warm-water fish, such as tuna and stingrays, appear to be slowly following on behind, while cold-water species such as cod are suffering.
Experts said sea birds, such as guillemots and puffins, might gradually have to move northwards while the decline of the kittiwake, one of Scotland's most common seabirds, which has seen its numbers fall by half over the past 15 years, has been linked to increasing winter temperatures. Meanwhile, numbers of Mediterranean gulls, though small, are increasing in the south of the UK.
Ian Pearson, the climate change minister, said: "
Rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and melting polar ice are not just predictions, they are happening now. This report card contains some disturbing facts, showing that climate change is already having a noticeable impact on marine species from plankton to seabirds."
Dr Morten Fredericksen, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Banchory, and a contributor to the report card, said:
"The changes in plankton have been extraordinary. Most people don't have much of a relationship with plankton, but away from very close to the shore, everything in the sea depends on plankton."
Colder seas also tend to be more fertile than warmer ones. Dr Fredericksen
has studied black-legged kittiwakes and said their sudden population slump appeared to be related to the warmer weather.
"Warm winters are bad for them. They have fewer chicks and the adults seem to survive less well," he said.
However, the overall picture is uncertain, as scientists are unsure how many species will be able to adapt to life further north.
Another fear is that the eco-system could become out of sync. One reason for the decline of the cod is believed to be the differing breeding times of plankton. Warmer water plankton breed at a different time of year to colder kinds previously found in UK waters, and when cod larvae hatch, their access to their main source of food is significantly reduced.
Dr David Sims, at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, said a rise in numbers of warm-water species had been noticed over the past 100 years and there was some evidence global warming was hitting traditional fish populations.
"Climate is affecting plankton in a pronounced way and it's likely this will echo through the food chain," he said.
Scientist says global warming will 'kill billions'
JAMES Lovelock, the environmental guru, yesterday said he was more certain than ever that billions of people will die over the next century as a result of global warming, writes Ian Johnston
Professor Lovelock, famous for developing the Gaia theory of the planet as a living entity in which all life is interconnected, believes the Earth has a fever that will increase temperatures by 8C, making large parts of the world uninhabitable.
This would see most forms of life forced to move to the Arctic Circle apart from a few oases, such as mountainous regions like Switzerland and oceanic islands such as the UK and Japan, where the sea will help keep things cool.
Prof Lovelock, who was in London to give a lecture on the environment to the Institution of Chemical Engineers, said the summer of 2003, when thousands of people in Europe died because of the heat was a "test run" for the future.
"We had a hot summer - it got to just over 100F in London - but that was nothing compared to Europe. If that happened repeatedly by the middle of the century you wouldn't be able to grow anything, so people will want to come here [the UK]," he said.
"We are not all doomed. An awful lot of people will die, but I don't see the species dying out. A hot earth couldn't support much over 500 million."
Prof Lovelock, one of the most pessimistic climate scientists, believes securing food and energy supplies is now vital for the future and that his apocalyptic vision's chances of becoming reality are "probable".
"You can never be certain in science about anything, but the evidence has begun to strengthen," he said. "Almost all of the [climate] systems that have been looked at are in positive feedback ... and soon those effects will be larger than any of the effects of carbon dioxide emissions from industry around the world." Asked about the attempts to reduce greenhouse gases, he said: "It's really almost pointless."
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
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