Recovery from Ocean Warming Can Take Thousands of Years


The ocean means more to this community than people realize. There’s an industry here that, you know, basically there’s the crab industry and the salmon industry that employ a lot of people. And people make their living behind the ocean. Warm water has a big effect on the fishing industry. Different types of species dwell in the warm water, and the stuff that we fish right here, now, basically likes the cold water. And our average temperature is running now at 57, 56 degrees, and that’s actually warm for this time of year. Real warm. It seems like it’s the summertime, and we don’t know what’s going to happen with the salmon season’s coming up. We don’t know where they’re going to end up. Follow the warm currents and the bait. I hope they’re around here, but I don’t think they will be, because of the ocean conditions. We rely on the deep sea for major economic resources, for the health of our coastal communities, for fishing and fisheries extraction.

These are environments that are not irrelevant. They are very relevant. What we now know is that when the planet warms, the interior of the ocean loses oxygen, and there are all these biological consequences of oxygen loss. And the research that we did really shows, in the most comprehensive way that’s ever been shown before, the biological consequences of oxygen loss. Organisms get wiped out, communities disappear, ecosystems move. And we’d previously thought that recovery of sea floor ecosystems to, like, environmental disturbance, would happen on timescales of about 100 years. It turns out it actually happens on much longer timescales. It takes like 1,000 years for these sea floor ecosystems to recover. That was really a startling piece of information that popped out of this research. This is the core being recovered. (Can’t hear what she says next) One of the ways that we can study and answer questions about what’s going to happen to the planet in the future is by looking into the past. We extract cores of sediment from the sea floor. So marine sediment cores are these beautiful environmental archives similar to ice cores, and tree rings, and cave formations.

Who knows how old that shell is? So those cores of sediment then get cut up like a cake. They get sectioned and sliced, and you have little intervals of sediment, and little intervals of time. And if you look through those intervals, it gives you a history of what was happening through, in the environment through time. I’ll tap this in here. What Sarah did is she decided to actually look at a very high resolution. So lots of, lots and lots of samples, and actually try to investigate all of the invertebrate fauna that were preserved in these cores. So that means clams, and sea stars, and things like sea urchins, and anything that was preserved with a hard part. …of a sample, and they all…

It’s basically, has not ever been done at this kind of scale. Never across time scales like this. Never in the open ocean, in the deep ocean. This is really a unique climate record from offshore California where you can see in exquisite detail what was happening in terms of the ocean temperatures, and sort of the ocean climate system. And then you see the response of these very complex deep sea ecosystems to those changes. And there’s really no other record like that. For me, thinking about looking forward for my kid, potentially my grandchildren and great grandchildren, those people in the future are not going to have the same ocean that I have today. And that, that’s actually a place of sort of personal heartbreak. To know that, in the future, if we go down a path of unchecked climate warming, that these places that are so beautiful, and these organisms that are so fascinating and so bizarre and alien, those organisms and those ecosystems are not going to be there for my grandkids in the future. If we alter the trajectory of climate change, and reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, then we are going to see an ocean with much more oxygen in it.

We are going to sustain life in the deep sea..