Failing Oxygen: Global Warming Could Suffocate Life on Earth
December 7, 2015
Science Daily & Taylor Hill / Takepart & Climate Reality Project
A new study finds that unabated greenhouse gas emissions will cripple ocean phytoplankton's ability to produce oxygen. Falling oxygen levels could be a greater threat to the survival of life on planet Earth than flooding. An increase in the temperature of the world's oceans of around six degrees Celsius -- which some scientists predict could occur as soon as 2100 -- could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis.
Failing Phytoplankton, Failing Oxygen:
Global Warming Disaster Could Suffocate Life on Planet Earth
(December 1, 2015) -- Falling oxygen levels caused by global warming could be a greater threat to the survival of life on planet Earth than flooding, according to researchers from the University of Leicester.
A study led by Sergei Petrovskii, Professor in Applied Mathematics from the University of Leicester's Department of Mathematics, has shown that an increase in the water temperature of the world's oceans of around six degrees Celsius -- which some scientists predict could occur as soon as 2100 -- could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis.
Professor Petrovskii explained: "Global warming has been a focus of attention of science and politics for about two decades now. A lot has been said about its expected disastrous consequences; perhaps the most notorious is the global flooding that may result from melting of Antarctic ice if the warming exceeds a few degrees compared to the pre-industrial level.
However, it now appears that this is probably not the biggest danger that the warming can cause to the humanity.
"About two-thirds of the planet's total atmospheric oxygen is produced by ocean phytoplankton -- and therefore cessation would result in the depletion of atmospheric oxygen on a global scale. This would likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans."
The team developed a new model of oxygen production in the ocean that takes into account basic interactions in the plankton community, such as oxygen production in photosynthesis, oxygen consumption because of plankton breathing and zooplankton feeding on phytoplankton.
While mainstream research often focuses on the CO2 cycle, as carbon dioxide is the agent mainly responsible for global warming, few researchers have explored the effects of global warming on oxygen production.
The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Le Bourget, Paris, from November 30 to December 11. It will be the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.
Yadigar Sekerci, Sergei Petrovskii. Mathematical Modelling of Plankton–Oxygen Dynamics Under the Climate Change. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s11538-015-0126-0
Report: The World Will Run out of
Breathable Air Unless Carbon Is Cut
Taylor Hill / Takepart & Climate Reality Project
(December 3, 2015) -- As representatives from 195 nations gather in Paris to hammer out a global agreement to slash greenhouse gas emissions, a new study finds that the failure to do so could leave the world gasping for breath.
Marine plants such as phytoplankton are estimated to produce more than half the Earth's atmospheric oxygen, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For the study, Sergei Petrovskii, an applied mathematics professor at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, calculated how unrestrained global warming could affect phytoplankton and thus the ocean's ability to generate breathable air. He ran computer models that looked at what would happen to phytoplankton's ability to photosynthesize at different temperatures.
If the world's oceans warmed by 6 degrees Celsius—a realistic possibility if global emissions continue unabated—the tiny plants would halt oxygen production, according to the study, which was published Tuesday in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.
By 2100, the earth at sea level could have atmospheric oxygen levels comparable to the top of Mount Everest today. "And as far as I know, people cannot normally stay on Everest without oxygen masks for more than a few minutes," Petrovskii said.
The threat has been "mostly overlooked" by climate scientists, Petrovskii said, noting that such a global disaster would come with little notice.
"A distinct feature of this catastrophe is that there will be few warning signs and little change before it is too late," he said. That's because phytoplankton can continue to produce oxygen and photosynthesize at levels below 6 degrees of temperature rise.
"Under a 2-degree increase, we will probably see no change; the 4-degree increase would already be dangerously close," Petrovskii said, adding that more research is needed to determine what increase in global temperatures would halt phytoplankton's ability to photosynthesize.
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.
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