The global ocean has warmed substantially over the past century, with far-reaching implications for marine ecosystems1. Concurrent with long-term persistent warming, discrete periods of extreme regional ocean warming (marine heatwaves, MHWs) have increased in frequency2. Here we quantify trends and attributes of MHWs across all ocean basins and examine their biological impacts from species to ecosystems. Multiple regions in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans are particularly vulnerable to MHW intensification, due to the co-existence of high levels of biodiversity, a prevalence of species found at their warm range edges or concurrent non-climatic human impacts. The physical attributes of prominent MHWs varied considerably, but all had deleterious impacts across a range of biological processes and taxa, including critical foundation species (corals, seagrasses and kelps). MHWs, which will probably intensify with anthropogenic climate change3, are rapidly emerging as forceful agents of disturbance with the capacity to restructure entire ecosystems and disrupt the provision of ecological goods and services in coming decades.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $17.75 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Daily 0.25° resolution NOAA OISST V2 data are provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRLPSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/. Data on human impacts and marine biodiversity are available from NCEAS (https://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/globalmarine) and Aquamaps (www.aquamaps.org), respectively. Coral bleaching records were extracted from the NOAA Reef Watch programme (https://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov), giant kelp biomass data were sourced from the Santa Barbara Coastal Long-term Ecological Research (SBC-LTER) programme (http://sbc.lternet.edu//index.html). Additional data are available from the corresponding author upon request.
IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).
Oliver, E. et al. Longer and more frequent marine heatwaves over the past century. Nat. Commun. 9, 1324 (2018).
Frölicher, T. L., Fischer, E. M. & Gruber, N. Marine heatwaves under global warming. Nature 560, 360–364 (2018).
Chen, I.-C., Hill, J. K., Ohlemüller, R., Roy, D. B. & Thomas, C. D. Rapid range shifts of species associated with high levels of climate warming. Science 333, 1024–1026 (2011).
Burrows, M. T. et al. Geographical limits to species-range shifts are suggested by climate velocity. Nature 507, 492 (2014).
Cardinale, B. J. et al. Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature 486, 59–67 (2012).
Pecl, G. T. et al. Biodiversity redistribution under climate change: Impacts on ecosystems and human well-being. Science 355, eaai9214 (2017).
Coumou, D. & Rahmstorf, S. A decade of weather extremes. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 491–496 (2012).
Perkins, S. E., Alexander, L. V. & Nairn, J. R. Increasing frequency, intensity and duration of observed global heatwaves and warm spells. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L20714 (2012).
Meehl, G. & Tebaldi, C. More intense, more frequent, and longer lastingheat waves in the 21st century. Science 305, 994–997 (2004).
Trenberth, K. E., Fasullo, J. T. & Shepherd, T. G. Attribution of climate extreme events. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 725–730 (2015).
Oliver, E. C. J. et al. The unprecedented 2015/16 Tasman Sea marine heatwave. Nat. Commun. 8, 16101 (2017).
IPCC Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).
Hobday, A. J. et al. A hierarchical approach to defining marine heatwaves. Prog. Oceanogr. 141, 227–238 (2016).
Garrabou, J. et al. Mass mortality in Northwestern Mediterranean rocky benthic communities: effects of the 2003 heat wave. Glob. Change Biol. 15, 1090–1103 (2009).
Wernberg, T. et al. An extreme climatic event alters marine ecosystem structure in a global biodiversity hotspot. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 78–82 (2013).
Smale, D. A. & Wernberg, T. Extreme climatic event drives range contraction of a habitat-forming species. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 280, 20122829 (2013).
Mills, K. E. et al. Fisheries management in a changing climate lessons from the 2012 ocean heat wave in the Northwest Atlantic. Oceanography 26, 191–195 (2013).
Cavole, L. M. et al.Biological impacts of the 2013–2015 warm-water anomaly in the Northeast Pacific: winners, losers, and the future. Oceanography 29, 273–285 (2016).
Chavez, F. P. et al. Biological and chemical consequences of the 1997–1998 El Niño in central California waters. Prog. Oceanogr. 54, 205–232 (2002).
McCabe, R. M. et al. An unprecedented coastwide toxic algal bloom linked to anomalous ocean conditions. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 366–376 (2016).
Pearce, A. F. & Feng, M. The rise and fall of the ‘marine heat wave’ off Western Australia during the summer of 2010/2011. J. Mar. Syst. 111–112, 139–156 (2013).
Bond, N. A., Cronin, M. F., Freeland, H. & Mantua, N. Causes and impacts of the 2014 warm anomaly in the NE Pacific. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 3414–3420 (2015).
Hughes, T. P. et al. Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene. Science 359, 80–83 (2018).
Benthuysen, J. A., Oliver, E. C. J., Feng, M. & Marshall, A. G. Extreme marine warming across tropical Australia during austral summer 2015–2016. J. Geophy. Res. Oceans https://doi.org/10.1002/2017JC013326 (2018).
Borenstein, M., Hedges, L. V., Higgins, J. P. T. & Rothstein, H. R. Introduction to Meta-Analysis (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, 2009).
Moore, J. A. Y. et al. Unprecedented mass bleaching and loss of coral across 12° of latitude in Western Australia in 2010–11. PLoS ONE 7, e51807 (2012).
Smith, T. B., Glynn, P. W., Maté, J. L., Toth, L. T. & Gyory, J. A depth refugium from catastrophic coral bleaching prevents regional extinction. Ecology 95, 1663–1673 (2014).
Vargas, F. H., Harrison, S., Rea, S. & Macdonald, D. W. Biological effects of El Niño on the Galápagos penguin. Biol. Conserv. 127, 107–114 (2006).
Poloczanska, E. S. et al. Global imprint of climate change on marine life. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 919–925 (2013).
Somero, G. N. The physiology of climate change: how potentials for acclimatization and genetic adaptation will determine ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. J. Exp. Biol. 213, 912–920 (2010).
Harvey, B. P., Gwynn-Jones, D. & Moore, P. J. Meta-analysis reveals complex marine biological responses to the interactive effects of ocean acidification and warming. Ecol. Evol. 3, 1016–1030 (2013).
Pearce, A. et al. The ‘Marine Heat Wave’ off Western Australia During the Summer of 2010/11 Fisheries Research Report No. 222 (Department of Fisheries, 2011).
Wernberg, T. et al. Climate driven regime shift of a temperate marine ecosystem. Science 353, 169–172 (2016).
Halpern, B. S., Selkoe, K. A., Micheli, F. & Kappel, C. V. Evaluating and ranking the vulnerability of global marine ecosystems to anthropogenic threats. Conserv. Biol. 21, 1301–1315 (2007).
Marba, N. & Duarte, C. M. Mediterranean warming triggers seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) shoot mortality. Glob. Change Biol. 16, 2366–2375 (2010).
Liquete, C. et al. Current status and future prospects for the assessment of marine and coastal ecosystem services: a systematic review. PLoS ONE 8, e67737 (2013).
Cavanagh, R. D. et al. Valuing biodiversity and ecosystem services: a useful way to manage and conserve marine resources? Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.1635 (2016).
Cai, W. et al. Increased frequency of extreme La Nina events under greenhouse warming. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 132–137 (2015).
Cerrano, C. et al. A catastrophic mass-mortality episode of gorgonians and other organisms in the Ligurian Sea (North-western Mediterranean), Summer 1999. Ecol. Lett. 3, 284–293 (2000).
Ñiquen, M. & Bouchon, M. Impact of El Niño events on pelagic fisheries in Peruvian waters. Deep Sea Res. Pt 2, 563–574 (2004).
Thomson, J. A. et al. Extreme temperatures, foundation species, and abrupt ecosystem change: an example from an iconic seagrass ecosystem. Glob. Change Biol. 21, 1463–1474 (2015).
Brown, B. E. Suharsono. Damage and recovery of coral reefs affected by El Niño related seawater warming in the Thousand Islands, Indonesia. Coral Reefs 8, 163–170 (1990).
Edwards, M. S. Estimating scale-dependency in disturbance impacts: El Niños and giant kelp forests in the northeast Pacific. Oecologia 138, 436–447 (2004).
Whitney, F. A. Anomalous winter winds decrease 2014 transition zone productivity in the NE Pacific. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 428–431 (2015).
Glynn, P. W. El Niño-associated disturbance to coral reefs and post disturbance mortality by Acanthaster planci. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 26, 395–300 (1985).
Le Nohaïc, M. et al. Marine heatwave causes unprecedented regional mass bleaching of thermally resistant corals in northwestern Australia. Sci. Rep. 7, 14999 (2017).
Hughes, T. P. et al. Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals. Nature 543, 373 (2017).
Rodrigues, L. C., van den Bergh, J. C. J. M., Loureiro, M. L., Nunes, P. A. L. D. & Rossi, S. The cost of Mediterranean sea warming and acidification: a choice experiment among scuba divers at Medes Islands, Spain. Environ. Res. Econ. 63, 289–311 (2016).
Prideaux, B., Thompson, M., Pabel, A. & Anderson, A. C. in CAUTHE 2017: Time For Big Ideas? Re-thinking The Field For Tomorrow (eds Lee, C., Filep, S., Albrecht, J. N. & Coetzee, W. J. L.) (Department of Tourism, University of Otago, Dunedin, 2017).
TEEB The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Ecological and Economic Foundations (Kumar, P., ed.) (Earthscan, London and Washington, 2010).
García Molinos, J. et al. Climate velocity and the future global redistribution of marine biodiversity. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 83–88 (2016).
Kaschner, K. et al. AquaMaps: Predicted Range Maps for Aquatic Species (2015); http://www.aquamaps.org
Jones, M. C. & Cheung, W. W. L. Multi-model ensemble projections of climate change effects on global marine biodiversity. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 72, 741–752 (2015).
Halpern, B. S. et al. Spatial and temporal changes in cumulative human impacts on the world’s ocean. Nat. Commun. 6, 7615 (2015).
Halpern, B. S. et al. A global map of human impact on marine ecosystems. Science 319, 948–952 (2008).
Deser, C., Alexander, M. A., Xie, S.-P. & Phillips, A. S. Sea surface temperature variability: patterns and mechanisms. Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci. 2, 115–143 (2009).
Ready, J. et al. Predicting the distributions of marine organisms at the global scale. Ecol. Modell. 221, 467–478 (2010).
Wallace, B. C. et al. OpenMEE: Intuitive, open-source software for meta-analysis in ecology and evolutionary biology. Methods. Ecol. Evol. 8, 941–947 (2017).
Del Re, A. A practical tutorial on conducting meta-analysis in R. Quant. Meth. Psych. 11, 37–50 (2015).
Kaplan, I., Halitschke, R., Kessler, A., Sardanelli, S. & Denno, R. F. Constitutive and induced defenses to herbivory in above-and-below ground plant tissues. Ecology 89, 392–406 (2008).
Gurevitch, J., Morrison, J. A. & Hedges, L. V. The interaction between competition and predation: a meta‐analysis of field experiments. Am. Nat. 155, 435–453 (2000).
Gurevitch, J., Morrow, L. L., Wallace, A. & Walsh, J. S. A meta-analysis of competition in field experiments. Am. Nat. 140, 539–572 (1992).
Guo, L. B. & Gifford, R. M. Soil carbon stocks and land use change: a meta analysis. Glob. Change Biol. 8, 345–360 (2002).
Rosenberg, M. S. & Goodnight, C. The file-drawer problem revisited: a general weighted method for calculating fail-safe numbers in meta-analysis. Evolution 59, 464–468 (2005).
Rosenberg, M. S., Adams, D. C. & Gurevitch, J. Metawin: statistical software for meta-analysis v.2 (Sinauer Associates, 2000).
Cavanaugh, K. C., Siegel, D. A., Reed, D. C. & Bell, T. W. SBC LTER: Time Series of Kelp Biomass in the Canopy from Landsat 5, 1984−2011 (2014); https://doi.org/10.6073/pasta/329658f19d5e61dda0be5ee883cd1c41
Concepts and analyses were developed during three workshops organized by an international working group on marine heatwaves (www.marineheatwaves.org). Workshops were primarily funded by a University of Western Australia Research Collaboration Award to T.W. and a Natural Environment Research Council (UK) International Opportunity Fund awarded to D.A.S. (NE/N00678X/1). D.A.S. is supported by an Independent Research Fellowship (NE/K008439/1) awarded by the Natural Environment Research Council (UK). The Australian Research Council supported T.W. (FT110100174 and DP170100023), E.C.J.O. (CE110001028) and M.G.D. (DE150100456). N.J.H. and L.V.A. are supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CE170100023). M.S.T was supported by the Brian Mason Trust. P.J.M. is supported by a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (PCIG10-GA-2011–303685) and a Natural Environment Research Council (UK) Grant (NE/J024082/1). S.C.S. was supported by an Australian Government RTP Scholarship. This work contributes to the World Climate Research Programme Grand Challenge on Extremes, the NESP Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub Project 2.3 (Component 2) on the predictability of ocean temperature extremes, and the interests and activities of the International Commission on Climate of IAMAS/IUGG.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Journal peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Jennifer Jackson and Paul Fiedler for their contribution to this work.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Smale, D.A., Wernberg, T., Oliver, E.C.J. et al. Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 306–312 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0412-1
Effects of temperature and hypoxia on respiration, photorespiration, and photosynthesis of seagrass leaves from contrasting temperature regimes
ICES Journal of Marine Science (2020)
Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (2020)
New Phytologist (2020)
Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2020)
Frontiers in Marine Science (2020)