Warming Arctic Increases Mixing of Pacific and Atlantic Fish

Written by on February 27, 2015 in Marine Life, Physical Oceanography

By Sodavy Ou

Arctic sea ice melt ponds.

Arctic sea ice melt ponds. Photo credit: NASA HQ PHOTO via photopin cc.

For most of the past three million years, sea ice and harsh conditions of the Arctic have acted as dividers that separate marine animals of the North Pacific from those of the North Atlantic. Consequently, this separation influences distinct changes in marine fish of the Northern Hemisphere where very few species have been recorded to naturally cross this great divide. However, that can dramatically change according to a recent research published in Nature Climate Change journal.

Authored by Mary Wisz and Olivier Broennimann, the research concludes that rapid warming is lifting the arctic barrier, allowing mixing of marine biota between the two regions. The authors forecasted the potential northward movement of 515 fish species as global warming progresses and analyzed the rate of potential species interchange between the Atlantic and Pacific. The results show a variety of responses in this century with accelerated mixing after 2050. By 2100, up to 41 species could enter the Pacific and 44 species could enter the Atlantic. This mixture can severely affect the food webs that have been established for millions of years and impact biodiversity in these two regions.

Introduction of new species will likely have negative impacts on native species in these regions by increasing competition for resources such as food and habitats. In turn, this will have noticeable impacts on commercial fisheries. For instance, following the opening of the Suez Canal, 55 Red Sea species were introduced to the Mediterranean Basin where they out-competed some of the native species and caused negative impacts on commercial fisheries.

Earth is undergoing the largest climate changes of the past 65 million years and it is expected to occur at a rate 10 times faster than any change in that period. Last year was the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880. What is more alarming is that warming in the Arctic region is twice as fast as the global average.

This research connects the dots between global warming and the economy. It demonstrates how the melting of the Arctic ice can introduce invasive species to new regions, driving up competitions on native species to a level where commercial fishing of native species is no longer economically viable.

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Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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