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  • Writer's picturevalentinadisanto

Sharks at risk from climate-driven coastal upwelling

Climate change discussions often focus on rising temperatures, but a new study published in Nature Climate Change brings to light the underreported effects of cold upwelling on marine life, particularly on sharks. The research led by Lubitz et al. zeroes in on how climate-induced shifts in ocean currents are creating fatal conditions for marine species like the bull shark.

The study meticulously integrates environmental data analysis, modeling, and animal tracking to probe the dynamics of upwelling in the Agulhas Current and East Australian Current. These areas are known for their dynamic oceanic activities and have shown an increase in the frequency and intensity of cold events over the past 30 years due to shifts in oceanic pressure and circulation systems. This trend poses significant risks to marine life, pushing species like bull sharks to the edge of their geographic range, where they struggle to find suitable thermal environments during cold upwelling events.

Bull sharks, which are known for inhabiting different water temperatures, find it increasingly difficult to navigate the thermal gradients of their habitat during these events. The research indicates that these sharks often avoid colder waters, inadvertently moving towards warm surface areas where cold currents of upwelling zones are prevalent.

The implications of this study extend beyond just bull sharks. Similar patterns of increased mortality linked to cold conditions have been observed in other marine species, such as Kemp’s ridley turtles in the northwestern Atlantic. This highlights the broader impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, emphasizing the need to consider both warm and cold thermal events in marine conservation strategies.

By bringing attention to the effects of cold upwelling, the study by Lubitz et al. serves as a crucial reminder that the impacts of climate change on the ocean are complex and multifaceted. It is vital for marine biologists, ecologists, and policymakers to take into account these underappreciated aspects to formulate effective strategies for marine conservation in a rapidly changing world. Read my view on this research in Nature Climate Change: LINK.

Credit: Julian Gunther/Moment/Getty

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