Gulf of St. Lawrence may soon be unable to support marine life: study
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is seen from Gros Morne National Park in western Newfoundland on Sunday, June 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Published Monday, September 17, 2018 2:02PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 19, 2018 11:54AM EDT
The Gulf of St. Lawrence has warmed and lost oxygen more rapidly than almost anywhere else in the Earth's oceanic waters thanks in part to climate change, raising the possibility that it could soon be unable to fully support marine life, according to a new study.
Led by the University of Washington and published in Nature Climate Change on Monday, the study provides new information about the underlying causes of the disappearance of oxygen from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which scientists say has been happening since at least 1960.
Mariona Claret, an author of the study and a research associate at the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, told CTV News Channel that at least half of the blame can be attributed to climate change.
“This is very concerning,” she said. “The effects right now are kind of mild, but in the near future, it can get worse.”
Claret said that an increase in carbon emissions has caused the oxygen-poor Gulf Stream to shift northward, weakening the Labrador Current and causing more of the Gulf Stream’s waters to enter the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
She added that the case study is “a canary in the coal mine” for researchers because the Gulf of St. Lawrence is very sensitive to climate change and provides clues about what portends other bodies of water.
“Our results provide strong evidence that a major, centennial-scale change of the Labrador Current is underway,” the study concludes, adding that a similar change in large-scale currents may be occurring in the open oceans.
Warmer water cannot dissolve as much oxygen as colder water and it forces marine animals to breathe more rapidly, causing them to use up all of the available oxygen.
The study says that conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is home to an incredibly diverse marine ecosystem, are approaching “hypoxic conditions,” which occur when marine life cannot be supported.
Claret said that researchers are already seeing populations of Atlantic wolfish struggle to survive, but added that cod, snow crabs and Greenland halibut are likely to suffer in the future.
“We know that this going to be bad for fisheries, but we don’t know exactly understand the long-term effects this will have,” Claret said.
This study comes on the heels of a paper published in Science in January, which found that the volume of the world’s ocean water completely devoid of oxygen has quadrupled since 1950.
“We need to mitigate these effects locally,” Claret told CTV News Channel.