Altered Ecosystems by Strengthened Winds

by Jordan Aronowitz

Over the years, industrialization and urbanization have increased the amount of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases present in our atmosphere. Obviously, these changes have affected the environment by increasing average temperatures and overall sea level, but surprisingly, climate change is also affecting wind levels. Over the past 25 years, many researchers have sought to determine whether these changes in wind speed positively or negatively effect related ecosystems. A 1990 hypothesis proposed that these winds are increasing and will positively affect the neighboring ecosystems. A synthesis of the data from experiments analyzing these patterns is the best way to see if the changes in these essential wind patterns have helped or harmed the ocean ecosystems under them. It was determined that these winds have been increasing overall, but further data must be collected to see their effects on the prosperity of the ocean ecosystems.

Three out of the five upwelling ecosystems analyzed had clearly intensified winds in recent years. Year-round wind intensification was present in the California system (northern Pacific) and the Humboldt system (off the coast of Chile). Wind intensification was present when reanalyzing quantitative model-data of past wind patterns and comparing the findings to present examinations in the Benguela system (southern Atlantic). Wind intensification was present when analyzing original data obtained through observation from the primaries studied by the writers in the Canary system (off the eastern coast of the United States). On the contrary, in the Iberian System (off the coast of western Africa), the data found went against the hypothesis, as contemporary winds were weaker than the originally observed wind patterns.

The wind intensification in the California, Benguela, and Humboldt ecosystems will ultimately benefit marine life. If there is a lack of nutrients, these winds can provide sustenance to the water, a refreshingly positive result of climate change. However, if the winds are too intense, they can end up harming the ecosystems connected to them by disrupting plankton migration or increasing the presence of acid in the waters. In addition, more harshly intensified winds were found at higher latitudes, leading to more severe effects on colder ecosystems. The changes can either help or harm fisheries, showing that climate change will have unpredictable effects on the ecosystems affected by these upwelling winds. Fisheries may be constrained if the winds prove to be harmful, increasing the price of fish and damaging ecosystems in the long-term. Over time forecasting of these changes will become easier and the consequences will be determined. Fortunately, the effects are not entirely negative, providing some hope for individuals concerned with the effect of excess carbon dioxide production on the worlds’ oceans.

W. J. Sydeman, García-Reyes, M., Schoeman, D. S., Rykaczewski, R. R. (2014). Climate change and wind intensification in coastal upwelling ecosystems. Science, 345, 77-80. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6192/77.full.pdf

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