Climate velocity reveals increasing exposure of deep-ocean biodiversity to future warming uri icon


  • Marine biodiversity is at risk as the ocean warms, but currently the focus has been at the surface as the deep ocean has warmed less. Climate velocity-the speed and direction of isotherm displacement-is calculated to be faster in the deep ocean, and projections show this difference will grow.
  • Slower warming in the deep ocean encourages a perception that its biodiversity is less exposed to climate change than that of surface waters. We challenge this notion by analysing climate velocity, which provides expectations for species' range shifts. We find that contemporary (1955-2005) climate velocities are faster in the deep ocean than at the surface. Moreover, projected climate velocities in the future (2050-2100) are faster for all depth layers, except at the surface, under the most aggressive GHG mitigation pathway considered (representative concentration pathway, RCP 2.6). This suggests that while mitigation could limit climate change threats for surface biodiversity, deep-ocean biodiversity faces an unavoidable escalation in climate velocities, most prominently in the mesopelagic (200-1,000 m). To optimize opportunities for climate adaptation among deep-ocean communities, future open-ocean protected areas must be designed to retain species moving at different speeds at different depths under climate change while managing non-climate threats, such as fishing and mining.

publication date

  • 2020
  • 2020