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Cambridge Books Online

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Aquatic Ecosystems
Trends and Global Prospects
Edited by Nicholas V. C. Polunin
Book DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511751790
Online ISBN: 9780511751790
Hardback ISBN: 9780521833271
Chapter
PART VII - VAST MARINE SYSTEMS pp. 309-310
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511751790.027
Cambridge University Press
Part VII
Vast marine systems
309
Downloaded from Cambridge Books Online by IP 117.211.87.42 on Mon Nov 28 08:00:37 GMT 2011.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511751790.027
Cambridge Books Online Cambridge University Press, 2011
Very extensive marine ecosystems such as the open ocean,
polar seas and deep sea together cover >90% of the ocean
surface and >60% of the Earths. They dominate the
biomass and maybe biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems and
play major roles in the Earths climate. These vast eco-
systems have long been a primary source of human food
and they harbour many of the largest and most charismatic
animals, including great whales, polar bears, emperor
penguins and the giant tube worms of hydrothermal vents.
Yet their productivity is typically controlled by organisms
largely invisible to the human eye (i.e. phytoplankton and
bacteria). These marine systems include some of the most
exotic and remote habitats on the planet and undoubtedly
cradle extraordinary undiscovered species and evolutionary
novelty. Because of their very great spatial extent and
occurrence in polar regions, far out to sea or beneath
thousands of metres of water, these ecosystems seem
remote from most human activities and thus perhaps
unlikely to have suffered substantially from deleterious
anthropogenic impacts. However, the basis for describing
any such changes and predicting future anthropogenic
impacts remains poor. For the most part, these ecosystems
remain frontiers in terms of exploitation, science and
environmental management.
Across the subtropical euphotic zone (Chapter 20),
polar and ice-edge seas (Chapter 21) and abyssal seaoor
(Chapter 22), many, possibly most, of the vast areas
involved may pass through natural cycles of change over
periods of years to decades. These changes may be driven by
large-scale oceanatmospheric forcing such as El Nino
Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events, the Pacic Decadal
Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Antarctic
Circumpolar Wave. Separating natural ecosystem variations
from anthropogenic change is thus a major challenge,
especially where long-term data sets are lacking. Non-linear
responses and regime shifts in response to environmental
changes, both natural and anthropogenic, may be common
and thus further highlight human ignorance.
310 PART VI I
Downloaded from Cambridge Books Online by IP 117.211.87.42 on Mon Nov 28 08:00:37 GMT 2011.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511751790.027
Cambridge Books Online Cambridge University Press, 2011