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Dead Zones in Pacific Ocean linked to Global Warming

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A marine researcher says global warming is playing a role in ocean "dead zones." The low-oxygen zones that started off the Oregon Coast has started spreading south to California. There's also a large dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce has more on what could be in store for the ocean off San Diego's coast.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco has been studying the ocean off the Oregon Coast for several years. The Oregon State University professor of marine biology was shocked to find oxygen-depleted waters - a sea floor littered with dead marine life. She says it's a symptom of global warming.

Lubchenco: Historically we have not had dead zones, zones of low oxygen, off open coastlines such as you see off the West Coast of the U.S. Washington, Oregon, California. In 2002 we saw the first one that we've ever recorded, off the coast of Oregon, and now we've had one every year since then.

She says those dead zones threaten the health of shellfish and other species. Lubchenco says it's all part of radical changes to the world's oceans.

Lubchenco: So climate change in a nutshell is having major impacts on oceans. Waters are becoming warmer, they're becoming more acidic, increases in sea level rise, more storminess.

She says scientists are especially concerned about the combination of warming oceans and acidification. She says early research shows sea life might survive one, but not both.

Lubchenco: This double jeopardy is going to be increasingly problematic for much of life in the oceans. The increasing depletion and disruption of ocean ecosystems is a very serious phenomenon that is affecting oceans virtually every place and it should be a wake-up call to everyone.

Lubchenco says climate change is already affecting the world's oceans. But she says reducing greenhouse gas emissions more quickly can make a difference in whether we'll see more "dead zones." Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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