You Might Cry When You Read This Study About What's Happening to the Oceans

Aquatic Omens

Beware the three horsemen of the ocean apocalypse: extreme heat, acidification, and deoxygenation. New research, published in the journal AGU Advances, has shown how this "triple threat" has drastically intensified over the past several decades, pushing our oceans ever closer to the brink in what is yet another clear consequence of climate change.

Though nothing's set in stone, the findings exhibit eerie parallels to the precursors of previous mass extinctions.

"If you look at the fossil record you can see there was this same pattern at the end of the Permian, where two-thirds of marine genera became extinct," Andrea Dutton, a climate scientist at the University of Wisconisin-Madison who was not involved in the study, told The Guardian. "We don't have identical conditions to that now, but it's worth pointing out that the environmental changes going on are similar."

New Extremes

Extreme heat, acidification, and deoxygenation are all fearsome forces on their own. Combine two or more of them, and they can be catastrophic: they cause what's known as column-compound extreme events (CCX), which turn affected areas of the ocean virtually uninhabitable.

The research, which focused on the effects in the upper one thousand feet of the ocean, found that these compound events are growing, and now threaten up to 20 percent of global ocean volume. The waters of the North Pacific and the tropics are the most hard hit, as the only areas faced with full-blown triple CCX — at least so far.

To make matters worse, the events are only getting more extreme, lasting three times longer — up to 30 days — and are six times more intense compared to the 1960s, per the Guardian. And wherever they occur, they can cut down the amount of habitable space by up to 75 percent.

"The impacts of this have already been seen and felt," study lead author Joel Wong, a researcher at ETH Zurich, told the newspaper.  "Intense extreme events like these are likely to happen again in the future and will disrupt marine ecosystems and fisheries around the world."

Sinking Feeling

Oceans are the world's largest carbon sinks, absorbing the greenhouse gas and keeping it out of the atmosphere — and this immense burden, worsened due to climate change driven by human emissions, is taking its toll.

As the oceans absorb more carbon, their seawater becomes more acidic, damaging marine life. It also has the effect of crowding out oxygen molecules, straining aquatic populations.

Marine biomes are also enormous heat sinks. As expected, soaring global temperatures are putting them under incredible stress. But last year, the oceans also experienced a spike in warming that outpaced even the most pessimistic predictions, bewildering scientists. Who knows, then, just how extreme these compounding catastrophes can get.

More on oceans: Scientists Find Plastic-Eating Fungus Feasting on Great Pacific Garbage Patch