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NASA/Kathryn Hansen via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0
NASA/Kathryn Hansen via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

Experts Predict Widespread Ocean Warming by 2050

NASA/Kathryn Hansen via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0
NASA/Kathryn Hansen via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

A study published this week in the journal Nature Communications finds that climate change will affect up to 86 percent of the world’s oceans within the next few decades—and that it’s not too late to do something about it.

The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) is a large-scale collaboration by atmospheric and climate scientists around the world. The fifth phase of the project, which ended in 2014, yielded 20 different models, or simulations, of our planet’s climate in the past, present, and future.

For the latest study, researchers combined data from 12 of the 20 CMIP models, focusing on how climate change could affect the oceans.

The results were grim. If humans proceed with business as usual and continue to degrade the environment, the researchers say, we can expect to see significant warming and acidification in more than four-fifths of the ocean.

On a global scale, that will mean melting ice caps and rising sea levels. It’ll also affect millions of marine species, including those central to human diet and industry. Changing waters will force species from plankton to polar bears to adapt, migrate, or die.

Migration will not be an option for coldwater species, lead author Stephanie Henson of the British National Oceanography Centre told Reuters. “Arctic fish don’t have anywhere to go.”

“How individual species will fare, or how the ecosystem as the sum of its parts will fare, is poorly understood,” the authors write. “What is clear however is that there are likely to be winners and losers in the future ocean.”

But it wasn’t all bad news. These predictions are based on a future in which humans have failed to protect the planet. It’s not too late, the researchers say, for us to do better.

“The exposure of marine ecosystems to climate change-induced stress can be drastically reduced via climate mitigation measures,” they write. The more steps we take to mitigate climate change, the more time we’ll be able to give marine species to adapt and survive.

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Climate Change Is Making Nearly All Sea Turtles Born on These Beaches Female
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Climate change can wipe out a species's food source and destroy its habitat, but rising temperatures are having a more surprising effect on green sea turtles that's no less devastating. According to a report in Current Biology [PDF], up to 99.8 percent of the green sea turtles born on certain beaches in Australia are female, a direct result of the area's warmer-than-average temps.

A turtle's sex is determined by its environment. As The Washington Post reports, a clutch of eggs that incubates in sand that's roughly 85°F will produce about 50 percent females and 50 percent males. A few degrees cooler and the batch skews male; a bit hotter and it's majority female.

This evolutionary mechanism tends to balance itself out, but on beaches in northeast Australia, it's being hijacked by climate change. In order to gauge the size of the impact, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sampled the nesting beaches along the coast of Australia adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, the part that has seen the most dramatic temperature rises and coral bleaching. What they found on the warmer northern beaches was the worst-case scenario: 99.1 percent of juveniles, 99.8 percent of subadults, and 86.8 percent of the overall population was female. Data taken from the southern beaches are only slightly less alarming: Turtles hatched in the relatively cooler sands there were still 65 to 69 percent female. According to the study's authors, "the complete feminization of this population is possible in the near future." That would affect the species' future population growth.

Green sea turtles aren't the only species vulnerable to huge sex shifts by way of climate change. Many other reptiles also rely on temperature-dependent sex determination to keep populations balanced. But above-average temperatures can do more harm beyond messing with sex development: It can also kill embryos before they have the chance to hatch. The authors emphasize that figuring out how to regulate sand temperatures at key rookeries will be essential moving forward. If not, the species could face "a population collapse—or even extinction."

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Weather Watch
It Just Snowed In the Sahara Desert
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The Sahara isn’t always scorching. This week, a cold spell hit the town of Aïn Séfra in northern Algeria, and the world’s largest hot desert was blanketed in up to 16 inches of the white stuff in some places, The Independent reports.

The rare snowfall began early on Sunday, January 7, with the resulting precipitation melting by late afternoon. The phenomenon marked the region’s third snowfall in nearly 40 years, with other surprise wintry events occurring in February 1979 and December 2016.

Aïn Séfra is located in the Saharan Atlas Mountains in the northern Sahara Desert. Thanks to the region’s altitude, it's “not surprising that the area would see some snow if the conditions were right” a spokesperson for the Met Office, the UK’s national weather service, told The Independent. "With the setup over Europe at the moment, which has given us cold weather over the weekend, a push southwards of cold air into that region and some sort of moisture would bring that snow."

Kids enjoyed the freak snowfall, making snowmen and sledding down sand dunes, while adults had to deal with their vehicles getting stranded on icy roads, according to Forbes. By the day's end, temperatures climbed to 42°F and sand dunes returned to their ordinary brown—just long enough for residents of Aïn Séfra to experience both the highs and lows of an ordinary snow day.

[h/t The Independent]

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