The Bering Sea provides nearly one in every three fish caught worldwide, yet the increasing carbon dioxide concentrations there pose a worrying threat to its future productivity, according to a University of Southern California marine ecologist.
All the fish that ends up in McDonalds fish sandwiches thats all Bering Sea fish, said USC marine ecologist Dave Hutchins, whose former student at the University of Delaware, Clinton Hare, led research published Dec. 20 in Marine Ecology Progress Series.
By 2100, warmer, carbon-loaded oceans will affect algae growth, which will have a ripple of effects through the ecosystem that damage pollock, hake and other fish commonly caught there now. A more temperate Bering Sea just won't be as productive, the scientists say.
It's not just the warming, either, but the acidification of the oceans as carbon dioxide is absorbed there. The acid conditions prevent shell formation of certain plankton that are a critical part of the food chain. Scientists have suggested everything from king crabs to salmon could suffer as plankton die off.
The food chain seems to be changing in a way that is not supporting these top predators, of which, of course, were the biggest, Hutchins said.
A shift away from diatoms towards smaller phytoplankton could also undermine a key climate regulator called the biological pump. When diatoms die, their heavier carbon-based remains sink to the seafloor. This creates a pump whereby diatoms transport carbon from the atmosphere into deep-sea storage, where it remains for at least 1,000 years. This scenario could make the ocean less able to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide.
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