The world’s oceans are gasping for breath, a report issued Saturday at the annual global climate talks in Madrid has concluded.
The report represents the combined efforts of 67 scientists from 17 countries and was released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It found that oxygen levels in the world’s oceans declined by roughly 2 percent between 1960 and 2010. The decline, called deoxygenation, is largely attributed to climate change, although other human activities are contributing to the problem. One example is so-called nutrient runoff, when too many nutrients from fertilizers used on farms and lawns wash into waterways.
The decline might not seem significant because, “we’re sort of sitting surrounded by plenty of oxygen and we don’t think small losses of oxygen affect us,” said Dan Laffoley, the principal adviser in the conservation union’s global marine and polar program and an editor of the report. “But if we were to try and go up Mount Everest without oxygen, there would come a point where a 2 percent loss of oxygen in our surroundings would become very significant.”
“The ocean is not uniformly populated with oxygen,” he added. One study in the journal Science, for example, found that water in some parts of the tropics had experienced a 40 to 50 percent reduction in oxygen.