Villanova Biologists Part of International Research Team Whose Work on Ocean Warming is Compiled in Milestone International Union for Conservation of Nature Report

Professor Samantha Chapman (right) along with postdoc Glenn Coldren (left) and Biology BS/MS student Brendan Kelly (center)
Professor Samantha Chapman (right) along with postdoc Glenn Coldren (left) and Biology BS/MS student Brendan Kelly (center)

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Two Villanova biologists from the University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are part of an international research team of leading scientists studying ocean warming whose sobering conclusions about the effects of the escalating phenomenon – and its potential consequences – were made public in a landmark report released at the World Conservation Congress Sept. 5 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Calling ocean warming, “the greatest hidden challenge of our generation,” the report, issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warns that failure to take immediate action “has profound implications not just for ecosystems but also for the significant number of coastal communities and valuable economies that depend on a healthy ocean.”

The report titled, “Explaining ocean warming: Causes, scale, effects and consequences,” includes a chapter on the impacts and effects of ocean warming on tidal marsh and tidal freshwater forest ecosystems co-authored by Samantha Chapman, PhD, Villanova Associate Professor of Biology, and Adam Langley, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biology at Villanova University. Compiled by 80 scientists from 12 countries, the report reviews the damaging effects of ocean warming on species and ecosystems ranging from distressed fish stocks, decreased crop yields, extreme weather events and increased risk from water-borne diseases. Most of the heat from human-induced warming since the 1970s – a staggering 93 percent – has been absorbed by the ocean, which acts as a buffer against climate change, according to Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice Chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas at IUCN, and a co-editor of the report along with John M. Baxter, Chief Editor, Aquatic Conservation.

“This report emphasizes that, to date, the ocean has served us well in absorbing the products of human society," Chapman said. "However, its capacity to keep helping us may be reaching its limit.”

“Our work on coastal wetlands has shown that they have some ability to adapt to warmer temperatures and rising seas but this ability has its limits,” Langley agreed.

The IUCN report’s recommendations include recognizing the severity of ocean warming impacts on ocean ecosystems and the benefits they provide to humans; reducing greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and substantially; expanding marine-protected areas, introducing legal protection for the high seas; better evaluating the social and economic risks associated with warming oceans and continuing to fill gaps in scientific knowledge.

Professors Chapman and Langley stressed the need for national and international policy change on ocean warming by the United States.

“We live on a planet which looks mostly blue from space. These blue oceans deserve our vigilance as we confront a warmer future,” Chapman said.

A vote on motions related to protecting the high seas and protected areas in Antarctica, among others, will be taken by IUCN members. A second report, which will use the knowledge on ocean warming to re-evaluate the risks to society from the growing changes now being seen is in production.

Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu.