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Marine Ecosystem Responses to Cenozoic Global Change

August 8, 2013

The future impacts of anthropogenic global change on marine ecosystems are highly uncertain, but insights can be gained from past intervals of high atmospheric carbon dioxide partial pressure. The long-term geological record reveals an early Cenozoic warm climate that supported smaller polar ecosystems, few coral-algal reefs, expanded shallow-water platforms, longer food chains with less energy for top predators, and a less oxygenated ocean than today. The closest analogs for our likely future are climate transients, 10,000 to 200,000 years in duration, that occurred during the long early Cenozoic interval of elevated warmth. Although the future ocean will begin to resemble the past greenhouse world, it will retain elements of the present “icehouse” world long into the future. Changing temperatures and ocean acidification, together with rising sea level and shifts in ocean productivity, will keep marine ecosystems in a state of continuous change for 100,000 years.

Norris R D, Kirtland Turner S, Hull P M, Ridgwell A, 2013, Marine Ecosystem Responses to Cenozoic Global Change, Science, 341, 6145, 492-498, doi:10.1126/science.1240543. Article (subscription required).

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