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Seas warm more slowly,  but researchers find velocity of change threatens species

Lauren Morello, E&E reporter

Species on land and in the oceans will need to move at similar rates to find hospitable habitats as the climate warms, finds a study published yesterday in the journal Science.

Warming of the world's seas has occurred at a slower pace than warming of land, on average, since 1960 -- 0.24 degree Celsius per decade versus 0.07 degree Celsius.

But an international team of researchers says their analysis shows that the speed and direction of climate change, and changes in the timing of seasons, is happening at roughly the same pace on land and in the oceans.

"Despite slower ocean warming, the velocity of climate change and seasonal shift in the ocean are as
high as on land and often deviate from simple expectations of poleward migration and earlier springs/later falls," wrote the research team, led by Michael Burrows of the Scottish Marine Institute.

"Direct effects of climate warming are therefore likely to be as great in the oceans as on land at comparable latitudes and greater around the equator," he concluded.

Species in both environments must move at roughly the same rates to stay in their preferred temperature zones as warming shifts habitats, the study finds -- 1.6 miles per year on land and 1.3 miles per year in the oceans.

That movement is generally toward the poles, with some notable exceptions, the study found, including Northern Ireland. Ocean temperatures are changing twice as fast along the region's east coast than its west coast, with notable seasonal variations.

Spring is coming one to two days earlier per decade on Northern Ireland's landmass and in waters off its eastern coast, but little change has been observed along its western coast. In autumn, the story changes. Fall is arriving two to five days later per decade along Northern Ireland's east and west coasts, but scientists have found little to no changes in the arrival of autumn temperatures on land.

"These complicated patterns may mean little to humans -- after all, we're talking about only a few days' change per decade -- but they can be important for the seasonal timing of ecological events, which are often quite precise," said study co-author David Schoeman, a researcher at the University of Ulster, in a statement

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from climatewire-10-31_11-11 with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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