My current project is on ocean deoxygenation, a rarely discussed issue but one with potential to drastically impact the Earth’s future. The oceans are losing their oxygen, and the creatures living in them are running out of breath. The amount of low oxygen waters has quadrupled since 1960, and is set to continue increasing.
Why this occurs is complex and knowledge is still evolving. Warmer water, acidification, increased carbon dioxide and changes in the metabolism of organisms, to name only a few reasons. Ultimately, all these can be linked to global warming.
Deoxygenation is yet another consequence of burning fossil fuels, and another factor to consider in Earth’s future. Currently 26% of CO2 emissions are absorbed by the ocean, but this will decrease, leading to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus causing warming. Decreasing oxygen and acidification may even cause the ocean to begin releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making the problem even worse.
None of these consequences are included in our predictions of global warming. The IPCC’s ‘worst case scenario’ could still be trumped by something more extreme. Without reasonably accurate predictions, it’s hard to work out how to alleviate this problem and how to incorporate it into policy.
My project focuses on how microbial respiration causes and is also affected by decreasing oxygen and how to model the future impact of this on the ocean. I am discovering what we know, what we don’t know and how we can learn more to begin to solve this massive problem for the future of our planet.