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Concept: Oceans


In their new paper, Bellanger and coauthors show substantial economic impacts to the EU from neurocognitive impairment associated with methylmercury (MeHg) exposures. The main source of MeHg exposure is seafood consumption, including many marine species harvested from the global oceans. Fish, birds and other wildlife are also susceptible to the impacts of MeHg and already exceed toxicological thresholds in vulnerable regions like the Arctic. Most future emissions scenarios project a growth or stabilization of anthropogenic mercury releases relative to present-day levels. At these emissions levels, inputs of mercury to ecosystems are expected to increase substantially in the future, in part due to growth in the legacy reservoirs of mercury in oceanic and terrestrial ecosystems. Seawater mercury concentration trajectories in areas such as the North Pacific Ocean that supply large quantities of marine fish to the global seafood market are projected to increase by more than 50% by 2050. Fish mercury levels and subsequent human and biological exposures are likely to also increase because production of MeHg in ocean ecosystems is driven by the supply of available inorganic mercury, among other factors. Analyses that only consider changes in primary anthropogenic emissions are likely to underestimate the severity of future deposition and concentration increases associated with growth in mercury reservoirs in the land and ocean. We therefore recommend that future policy analyses consider the fully coupled interactions among short and long-lived reservoirs of mercury in the atmosphere, ocean, and terrestrial ecosystems. Aggressive anthropogenic emission reductions are needed to reduce MeHg exposures and associated health impacts on humans and wildlife and protect the integrity of one of the last wild-food sources globally. In the near-term, public health advice on safe fish consumption choices such as smaller species, younger fish, and harvests from relatively unpolluted ecosystems is needed to minimize exposure risks.

Concepts: Fish, United States, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Seafood, Arctic Ocean, Oceans


The crustacean order Isopoda (excluding Asellota, crustacean symbionts and freshwater taxa) comprise 3154 described marine species in 379 genera in 37 families according to the WoRMS catalogue. The history of taxonomic discovery over the last two centuries is reviewed. Although a well defined order with the Peracarida, their relationship to other orders is not yet resolved but systematics of the major subordinal taxa is relatively well understood. Isopods range in size from less than 1 mm to Bathynomus giganteus at 365 mm long. They inhabit all marine habitats down to 7280 m depth but with few doubtful exceptions species have restricted biogeographic and bathymetric ranges. Four feeding categories are recognised as much on the basis of anecdotal evidence as hard data: detritus feeders and browsers, carnivores, parasites, and filter feeders. Notable among these are the Cymothooidea that range from predators and scavengers to external blood-sucking micropredators and parasites. Isopods brood 10-1600 eggs depending on individual species. Strong sexual dimorphism is characteristic of several families, notably in Gnathiidae where sessile males live with a harem of females while juvenile praniza stages are ectoparasites of fish. Protandry is known in Cymothoidae and protogyny in Anthuroidea. Some Paranthuridae are neotenous. About half of all coastal, shelf and upper bathyal species have been recorded in the MEOW temperate realms, 40% in tropical regions and the remainder in polar seas. The greatest concentration of temperate species is in Australasia; more have been recorded from temperate North Pacific than the North Atlantic. Of tropical regions, the Central Indo-Pacific is home to more species any other region. Isopods are decidedly asymmetrical latitudinally with 1.35 times as many species in temperate Southern Hemisphere than the temperate North Atlantic and northern Pacific, and almost four times as many Antarctic as Arctic species. More species are known from the bathyal and abyssal Antarctic than Arctic GOODS provinces, and more from the larger Pacific than Atlantic oceans. Two areas with many species known are the New Zealand-Kermadec and the Northern North Pacific provinces. Deep hard substrates such as found on seamounts and the slopes are underrepresented in samples. This, the documented numbers of undescribed species in recent collections and probable cryptic species suggest a large as yet undocumented fauna, potentially an order of magnitude greater than presently known.

Concepts: Species, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Antarctica, Equator, Oceans, Isopoda


Large consumers have ecological influence disproportionate to their abundance, although this influence in food webs depends directly on productivity. Evolutionary patterns at geologic timescales inform expectations about the relationship between consumers and productivity, but it is very difficult to track productivity through time with direct, quantitative measures. Based on previous work that used the maximum body size of Cenozoic marine invertebrate assemblages as a proxy for benthic productivity, we investigated how the maximum body size of Cenozoic marine mammals, in two feeding guilds, evolved over comparable temporal and geographical scales. First, maximal size in marine herbivores remains mostly stable and occupied by two different groups (desmostylians and sirenians) over separate timeframes in the North Pacific Ocean, while sirenians exclusively dominated this ecological mode in the North Atlantic. Second, mysticete whales, which are the largest Cenozoic consumers in the filter-feeding guild, remained in the same size range until a Mio-Pliocene onset of cetacean gigantism. Both vertebrate guilds achieved very large size only recently, suggesting that different trophic mechanisms promoting gigantism in the oceans have operated in the Cenozoic than in previous eras.

Concepts: United States, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Marine debris, World Ocean, Oceans


Marine defaunation, or human-caused animal loss in the oceans, emerged forcefully only hundreds of years ago, whereas terrestrial defaunation has been occurring far longer. Though humans have caused few global marine extinctions, we have profoundly affected marine wildlife, altering the functioning and provisioning of services in every ocean. Current ocean trends, coupled with terrestrial defaunation lessons, suggest that marine defaunation rates will rapidly intensify as human use of the oceans industrializes. Though protected areas are a powerful tool to harness ocean productivity, especially when designed with future climate in mind, additional management strategies will be required. Overall, habitat degradation is likely to intensify as a major driver of marine wildlife loss. Proactive intervention can avert a marine defaunation disaster of the magnitude observed on land.

Concepts: Oceanography, Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Ocean, World Ocean, Oceans


Recent research indicates that the cooling trend in the tropical Pacific Ocean over the past 15 years underlies the contemporaneous hiatus in global mean temperature increase. During the hiatus, the tropical Pacific Ocean displays a La Niña-like cooling pattern while sea surface temperature (SST) in the Indian Ocean has continued to increase. This SST pattern differs from the well-known La Niña-induced basin-wide cooling across the Indian Ocean on the interannual timescale. Here, based on model experiments, we show that the SST pattern during the hiatus explains pronounced regional anomalies of rainfall in the Asian monsoon region and thermodynamic effects due to specific humidity change are secondary. Specifically, Indo-Pacific SST anomalies cause convection to intensify over the tropical western Pacific, which in turn suppresses rainfall in mid-latitude East Asia through atmospheric teleconnection. Overall, the tropical Pacific SST effect opposes and is greater than the Indian Ocean SST effect.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Temperature, Indian Ocean, Asia, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Monsoon, Oceans


Holocene ocean circulation is poorly understood due to sparsity of dateable marine archives with submillennial-scale resolution. Here we present a record of mid-depth water radiocarbon contents in the Northwest (NW) Pacific Ocean over the last 12.000 years, which shows remarkable millennial-scale variations relative to changes in atmospheric radiocarbon inventory. Apparent decoupling of these variations from regional ventilation and mixing processes leads us to the suggestion that the mid-depth NW Pacific may have responded to changes in Southern Ocean overturning forced by latitudinal displacements of the southern westerly winds. By inference, a tendency of in-phase related North Atlantic and Southern Ocean overturning would argue against the development of a steady bipolar seesaw regime during the Holocene.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Antarctica, World Ocean, Oceans, Southern Ocean, 60th parallel south


Fisheries bycatch is a critical source of mortality for rapidly declining populations of leatherback turtles, Dermochelys coriacea. We integrated use-intensity distributions for 135 satellite-tracked adult turtles with longline fishing effort to estimate predicted bycatch risk over space and time in the Pacific Ocean. Areas of predicted bycatch risk did not overlap for eastern and western Pacific nesting populations, warranting their consideration as distinct management units with respect to fisheries bycatch. For western Pacific nesting populations, we identified several areas of high risk in the north and central Pacific, but greatest risk was adjacent to primary nesting beaches in tropical seas of Indo-Pacific islands, largely confined to several exclusive economic zones under the jurisdiction of national authorities. For eastern Pacific nesting populations, we identified moderate risk associated with migrations to nesting beaches, but the greatest risk was in the South Pacific Gyre, a broad pelagic zone outside national waters where management is currently lacking and may prove difficult to implement. Efforts should focus on these predicted hotspots to develop more targeted management approaches to alleviate leatherback bycatch.

Concepts: New Zealand, Pacific Ocean, Australia, Ocean, Oceans, Leatherback turtle, Sea turtle, Green turtle


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a climate relevant trace gas, and its production in the ocean generally increases under suboxic conditions. The Atlantic Ocean is well ventilated, and unlike the major oxygen minimum zones (OMZ) of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, dissolved oxygen and N2O concentrations in the Atlantic OMZ are relatively high and low, respectively. This study, however, demonstrates that recently discovered low oxygen eddies in the eastern tropical North Atlantic (ETNA) can produce N2O concentrations much higher (up to 115 nmol L(-1)) than those previously reported for the Atlantic Ocean, and which are within the range of the highest concentrations found in the open-ocean OMZs of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. N2O isotope and isotopomer signatures, as well as molecular genetic results, also point towards a major shift in the N2O cycling pathway in the core of the low oxygen eddy discussed here, and we report the first evidence for potential N2O cycling via the denitrification pathway in the open Atlantic Ocean. Finally, we consider the implications of low oxygen eddies for bulk, upper water column N2O at the regional scale, and point out the possible need for a reevaluation of how we view N2O cycling in the ETNA.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Equator, World Ocean, Oceans


International and regional policies aimed at managing ocean ecosystem health need quantitative and comprehensive indices to synthesize information from a variety of sources, consistently measure progress, and communicate with key constituencies and the public. Here we present the second annual global assessment of the Ocean Health Index, reporting current scores and annual changes since 2012, recalculated using updated methods and data based on the best available science, for 221 coastal countries and territories. The Index measures performance of ten societal goals for healthy oceans on a quantitative scale of increasing health from 0 to 100, and combines these scores into a single Index score, for each country and globally. The global Index score improved one point (from 67 to 68), while many country-level Index and goal scores had larger changes. Per-country Index scores ranged from 41-95 and, on average, improved by 0.06 points (range -8 to +12). Globally, average scores increased for individual goals by as much as 6.5 points (coastal economies) and decreased by as much as 1.2 points (natural products). Annual updates of the Index, even when not all input data have been updated, provide valuable information to scientists, policy makers, and resource managers because patterns and trends can emerge from the data that have been updated. Changes of even a few points indicate potential successes (when scores increase) that merit recognition, or concerns (when scores decrease) that may require mitigative action, with changes of more than 10-20 points representing large shifts that deserve greater attention. Goal scores showed remarkably little covariance across regions, indicating low redundancy in the Index, such that each goal delivers information about a different facet of ocean health. Together these scores provide a snapshot of global ocean health and suggest where countries have made progress and where a need for further improvement exists.

Concepts: Health, Atlantic Ocean, Policy, Index, Ocean, Globalization, Oceans, Goal


Mercury is a toxic, bioaccumulating trace metal whose emissions to the environment have increased significantly as a result of anthropogenic activities such as mining and fossil fuel combustion. Several recent models have estimated that these emissions have increased the oceanic mercury inventory by 36-1,313 million moles since the 1500s. Such predictions have remained largely untested owing to a lack of appropriate historical data and natural archives. Here we report oceanographic measurements of total dissolved mercury and related parameters from several recent expeditions to the Atlantic, Pacific, Southern and Arctic oceans. We find that deep North Atlantic waters and most intermediate waters are anomalously enriched in mercury relative to the deep waters of the South Atlantic, Southern and Pacific oceans, probably as a result of the incorporation of anthropogenic mercury. We estimate the total amount of anthropogenic mercury present in the global ocean to be 290 ± 80 million moles, with almost two-thirds residing in water shallower than a thousand metres. Our findings suggest that anthropogenic perturbations to the global mercury cycle have led to an approximately 150 per cent increase in the amount of mercury in thermocline waters and have tripled the mercury content of surface waters compared to pre-anthropogenic conditions. This information may aid our understanding of the processes and the depths at which inorganic mercury species are converted into toxic methyl mercury and subsequently bioaccumulated in marine food webs.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, World Ocean, Oceans, Southern Ocean