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Seafloor sediment cores reveal an abrupt extensive loss of oxygen to the ocean when the ice sheets melted approximately 10,000 to 17,000 years ago.
The results of a study from the University of California Davis provide insight into the similar changes seen in the ocean today.
In the work, published in the journal 'Plos One', the researchers analyzed the cores of marine sediments from different regions of the world to document the degree to which the low oxygen zones in the ocean have increased in the past due to climate change.
From the sub-arctic Pacific to the margins of Chile, they found evidence of extreme oxygen loss extending from the upper ocean to some 3,000 meters deep.
In some ocean regions, this loss took place over a period of 100 years or less.
"This is a global story that weaves these regions together and shows that when the planet warms rapidly, entire ocean basins can lose oxygen very abruptly and extensively," says lead author Sarah Moffitt, postdoctoral scholar at the 'Bodega Marine Laboratory. 'from the University of California Davis and previously a student with the Graduate Group in Ecology. Marine organisms, from salmon and sardines to crabs and oysters, depend on oxygen to exist.
Adapting to a marine environment with rapidly falling oxygen levels would require a major reorganization of living things and their habitats, in the same way that polar species living on land today are moving to higher and cooler latitudes. The researchers chose the period of deglaciation because it was a time of rising global temperature, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and sea levels - many of the signs of global climate change that Earth is now experiencing.
Our modern ocean is entering a state that is unprecedented in human history, ”Moffitt emphasizes. The idea that our oceans will look very, very different in 100-150 years is real. Resource managers and conservationists can use science to bring environmental management to a thoughtful, precautionary approach.