A Down-to-Ocean View of Climate Change

The most efficient way to ignore the effects of climate change is to look only at the atmosphere. Scientists often quote degrees of warming and changes to the gas composition of the atmosphere. However, nothing on our living planet exists solely in the air. Most ocean species are confined to the seas, however, and cannot escape the rising temperatures. 

Our oceans bear the brunt of our impact on the planet. Oceans span 71% of the Earth’s surface and are getting ever more extensive as areas of land ice melt.[1] If all land ice melts, we face a massive sea-level increase of 84m. Most of Eastern and Southern England will disappear, and Sheffield may become a coastal town.[2] Not only are they rising at an alarming rate, but they are also absorbing more carbon and growing more acidic.

Oceans are a massive carbon sink, absorbing around a third of carbon dioxide emissions.[3] This significant absorption has a definite effect on ecosystems, causing coral bleaching and weakening the north Atlantic drifts. This death of corals, phytoplankton and primary food sources can have devastating consequences further up in the food web. This acidification is also weakening of ocean animals with calcareous shells and skeletons.

The oceans also absorb 80% of the Earth’s heat.[4] Temperature and a warmer ocean have the power to dictate species lifecycles alter the time of sexual maturity, mating, migration and growth in fish and cephalopods. The Galapagos Islands, one of the most famously biodiverse hotspots in the world, may also suffer. Decreased nutrient upwelling due to rising temperatures, threatens the food security of species living around the coast. 

The value of the ocean is immeasurable. Our ocean is ironically a vast, and mostly untapped potential to provide us with renewable energy in many forms, from wave power to thermal and saline gradients. It also has colossal profitability in the way of a great holiday adventure. Merely seeing the sea gives us great satisfaction and can improve wellbeing.

Solutions to our global ocean warming and their effectiveness vary greatly. Individuals can make small everyday choices to reduce their carbon footprint and can make a tremendous difference collectively. Sadly, most of the greenhouse gases come from the unsustainable practices of large corporations that intensively consume the Earth’s resources for profit. 

[1] https://www.oceanicinstitute.org/aboutoceans/aquafacts.html
[2] https://www.iema.net/news/2016/01/08/Future-sea-level-rise-in-the-UK/
[3] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/oceans-do-us-a-huge-service-by-absorbing-nearly-a-third-of-global-co2-emissions-but-at-what-cost
[4] https://www.conservation.org/blog/5-ways-that-climate-change-affects-the-ocean