Impacts of climate change on marine organisms and ecosystems

Curr Biol. 2009 Jul 28;19(14):R602-14. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.05.046.


Human activities are releasing gigatonnes of carbon to the Earth's atmosphere annually. Direct consequences of cumulative post-industrial emissions include increasing global temperature, perturbed regional weather patterns, rising sea levels, acidifying oceans, changed nutrient loads and altered ocean circulation. These and other physical consequences are affecting marine biological processes from genes to ecosystems, over scales from rock pools to ocean basins, impacting ecosystem services and threatening human food security. The rates of physical change are unprecedented in some cases. Biological change is likely to be commensurately quick, although the resistance and resilience of organisms and ecosystems is highly variable. Biological changes founded in physiological response manifest as species range-changes, invasions and extinctions, and ecosystem regime shifts. Given the essential roles that oceans play in planetary function and provision of human sustenance, the grand challenge is to intervene before more tipping points are passed and marine ecosystems follow less-buffered terrestrial systems further down a spiral of decline. Although ocean bioengineering may alleviate change, this is not without risk. The principal brake to climate change remains reduced CO(2) emissions that marine scientists and custodians of the marine environment can lobby for and contribute to. This review describes present-day climate change, setting it in context with historical change, considers consequences of climate change for marine biological processes now and in to the future, and discusses contributions that marine systems could play in mitigating the impacts of global climate change.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbon Dioxide / chemistry*
  • Demography
  • Ecosystem*
  • Geography*
  • Greenhouse Effect*
  • Marine Biology
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Population Dynamics
  • Temperature*


  • Carbon Dioxide