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Deep oceans threatened by starvation

Deep-sea scientists have discovered that many areas of the ocean floor will be starved of food by the end of the century.

Climate change and human activity could cause food supplies for fish and plankton in some areas of the Earth’s deep oceans to decline by up to half by 2100, researchers say.

Over the same period, seabed temperatures are forecast to increase, while oxygen levels decline and seawater rapidly becomes more acidic.

Changes to conditions in the deep oceans could affect the health and sustainable functioning of the planet in years to come, the team says.

These areas of the ocean play a key role in sustaining fish stocks and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Forecasting changes

Scientists from 20 of the world’s leading marine research centres, including researchers at the University of Edinburgh, used the latest climate projections to forecast changes in the deep ocean – the largest habitat on Earth.

They found that changes now under way in oceans around the world are occurring at a faster rate than at any time in history.

Deep-sea conditions

By the end of the century, areas of the seafloor that lie at 200-3000 m – known as the bathyal zone – and 3000-6000 m – the abyssal zone – are projected to experience a 40-55 per cent decrease in their food supply, the team says.

Over the same time period, abyssal ocean temperatures are expected to warm by 1°C, while bathyal depths worldwide will become more acidic. Oxygen concentrations will also decline in deep-sea ecosystems around the world.

The study is published in the journal Elementa Science of the Anthropocene.

The University’s contributed to the research through the European Union’s Hori­zon 2020 research and innovation programme, under grant agreement No 678760 (ATLAS).

Over the next four years, the ATLAS project will study deep-sea ecosystems across the Atlantic Ocean and work to develop new plans for their long term management.

The deep ocean covers most of the planet and is a constant source of excitement and wonder to people across the world. It’s staggering to discover that our human footprint has spread so far. We must understand the implications of our actions and leave the only frontier remaining on the planet in a good state for the sake of future generations.

Professor Murray RobertsSchool of GeoSciences

Related links

School of GeoSciences

ATLAS project

Journal paper