Climate Change Is Choking the Atlantic Ocean to Death: 'It's Losing the Oxygen That Is Vital to Life'

A scientist leading a health check of the Earth's second largest ocean has warned the Atlantic could run out of breath.

Over the course of four years, an international team of researchers from countries which border the Atlantic ocean will investigate how climate change as well as industries such as fishing, mining, and oil and gas extraction affect the expanse of water. They will also look for refuges where animals appear able to survive, BBC News reported.

Countries including South America, Iceland and Scotland will be involved in the €10 million ($11 million) project. The team plan to look at all lifeforms in the ocean, from humpback whales to plankton and corals, Professor Murray Roberts, of the University of Edinburgh School of GeoSciences who is leading the iAtlantic project, told BBC News.

Researchers will explore 12 ecosystems, including: a coral reef near the Western Isles chain of islands on the west coast of Scotland, the North Atlantic region of the Sargasso Sea, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge off Iceland, the waters stretching from Angola to the Congo Lobe, and the Vitória-Trindade Seamount Chain off the coast of Brazil.

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A humpback whale sails through the air in the Atlantic Ocean, where researchers plan to carry out expeditions. Getty

The ocean is losing oxygen which wildlife need to survive, explained Roberts.

He asked in an interview with BBC News: "What will happen to these animals in the future as the Atlantic changes? As it gets warmer, as it gets more acidic and also—in some areas—as it runs out of breath."

"Because the Atlantic, like many ocean basins in the world, is being deoxygenated —it's losing the oxygen that is vital to life." Over 90 percent of global warming caused by climate change over the past five decades has happened in the ocean.

Vessels loaded with technology, including robot submarines, will embark on 32 research missions to collect data throughout the region. The expertise of those taking part span the fields from machine learning to physics and genomics, BBC News reported.

The scientists will study the data they collect alongside existing research on the DNA of ocean species to pinpoint the areas of the ocean which are most vulnerable to ecosystem changes caused by human activity, like pollution.

The team hopes to use its assessment of the ocean's health to inform government policies for conservation and tackle climate change.

Roberts said in a statement: "We often forget that we live on an ocean planet and that the vast depths of the sea provide 99 per cent of the space for life on Earth.

"But the oceans are under massive pressures from climate change, destructive fishing, plastic pollution and other human activities. The iAtlantic project has pulled together an amazing team from right around the ocean, and we can't wait to begin the most ambitious ocean health check ever carried out."

The efforts come as scientists work to understand the impact and potential future consequences of global warming on land and sea environments. A report published by climate scientists last week warned one sixth of the Earth's marine life will be wiped out by the end of the century if the atmosphere continues to heat up at current rates. The prediction was published in the journal PNAS.