Global Climate Change

Polar bear habitats are literally melting away.

How does global climate change relate to ecosystem studies?

It is essential to understand the implications of global climate change on the organisms and productivity of our planet. The annual average and variation in temperature and precipitation define the characteristics of environments across the globe. Global climate changes alter these measurements, and in turn will alter the distribution of these habitat types. Organisms that are adapted to thrive in specific habitats will have to change their geographic ranges as these changes occur. Organisms that cannot travel to better suited areas as the climate changes, or cannot transition to new environments will become extinct. Coral, which is especially sensitive to temperature changes, will experience this phenomenon if these patterns continue. Some habitats, such as alpine tundra regions, may disappear completely, and the organisms that are native to those regions will disappear with them. Populations may adapt with these changes as well, and although new species will arise due to these changes, the ones around today will no longer exist. Phenology, or timing of seasonal events, is an example of the changes populations may undergo due to climate conditions.

As far as productivity goes, the net primary productivity of terrestrial organisms is actually increasing. Global climate change is promoting conditions that favor producers, as it is creating warmer temperatures and more precipitation. In aquatic environments, however, productivity is drastically decreasing. As the ocean is being warmed by increased temperatures, the seawater is becoming more stratified. This means that the layer of warm, less dense water on the surface of the ocean is thicker than normal. This becomes a problem because it becomes harder for nutrients from the benthic zone to reach the photic zone. Organisms that are productive in the ocean need the sunlight available in the photic zone as well as the nutrients in the benthic zone. Without the turnover that allows both to exist in one area, the productivity decreases dramatically.

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