Ocean decline speeding up, warns Somerville professor’s report

The state of the oceans is declining faster than previously thought, according to a report published by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, and co-authored by the organisation’s scientific director Alex Rogers, a fellow of Somerville College.

The latest results suggest that pollution and overfishing have caused significant damage to the oceans, compromising their ability to absorb excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

This is especially worrying in light of the oceans’ usual role in slowing the pace of climate change, the report warns – and mass extinctions of certain species may be the result.

“What the report points to is our lack of understanding of both the role of the ocean in taking up CO2 and the impact of human activity on marine ecosystems,” said Rogers, Professor in Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.

The findings are published in a set of five papers in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, papers which were produced following meetings hosted at Somerville College.

“Our research at Oxford is trying to fill in these gaps in our knowledge about how carbon is transported in the deep ocean,” said Alex. “We need more research in particular into the active processes taking place as animals migrate up and down in the ocean every day.”

“Animals such as deep water fish will feed in surface waters at night, then migrate up to 1,600 metres back down into the deep. Animals like jellyfish repackage carbon ingested during feeding and excrete it as faecal pellets. We also see mass die-offs of deep sea animals – how this contributes to the carbon cycle, and how it might be affected by climate change, is very poorly understood.”

The report’s publication was covered by the University of Oxford and the BBC.

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