Saving the oceans first

Other | Tuesday 10th December 2019 | Phil

An often under observed phenomenon of damaging the climate system of the planet is how it affects our oceans and vice versa. Over 70% of the planet’s surface is covered by the oceans, making up 99% of the earth’s living space. 


Since 1955, more than 90% of the heat trapped within the atmosphere by man made greenhouse gases has been stored in the oceans, including around a third of all the carbon dioxide produced by the human race. Carbon dioxide, the main byproduct of human activity and consumption, is now nearly 50% higher in concentration that in pre-industrial times. 

These facts alone make it clear that preserving the ecosystem of the world’s oceans should be a priority and will contribute hugely in the urgent battle against global warming. Warming of the oceans can be attributed to global warming and is a huge factor in sea level rise. This means that flooding is all but set to become one of the greatest challenges the human civilisation has ever faced, and a challenge that many future generations will have to face. 

Leading scientific research makes it clear that, even if all signatory nations meet their targets as set out by the 2015 Paris Climate agreement, sea levels will continue to rise for centuries to come, with a projected increase of 20cm by the year 2300. 

The study published a month ago, shows that by the year 2050 coastal areas across the globe, home to more than 300 million people, are all but destined to become vulnerable to annual flooding. This is almost four times larger than the estimate previous research suggested, with the greatest change in estimates affecting Asia, the most densely populated area of the planet. The study states that roughly 4 million British people living in coastal areas across the UK will be affected. With many signatory nations still currently not on target to meet their Paris pledges, and with the US having begun its formal withdrawal from the agreement, the reality could sadly be even worse than these projections suggest.



In the last decade, advances in technology have allowed us to further understand the chemical, geological, and biological interactions of the Southern Ocean. New research shows that the Southern Ocean, being the biggest part of the ocean system, is once again going to be a key factor in influencing the future of the earth’s climate, and in ways scientists only a decade ago could not have predicted. 

The first of its kind and hopefully the first of many, the UN’s IPCC climate science panel Special Report on the ocean and cryosphere, has further estimated that sea levels could rise by over 1 metre by the end of the century if nations fail to curb their emissions, even without taking into account the melting of both the Arctic and Antarctic ice, both widely attributed to greenhouse gas induced global warming and now ocean acidification.  



The IPCC special report goes on to state that oceans are now more than 25% more acidic than pre-industrial levels, with the areas of ocean where oxygen is now effectively absent having quadrupled in the last 50 years. Rising temperatures result in the above noted acidification and deoxygenation of the oceans, with much marine life already sliding towards extinction because of this as well as the continued polluting of the oceans with chemicals and plastics

With four of the last five years being the hottest in recorded history, man made climate change looks to truly have become a man made climate crisis. 

All of these terrible knock on effects of modern consumer society on the environment and climate have only become factually and scientifically clear to the public in recent decades, with many of our beautifully delicate local ecosystems under threat and, in turn, risking the balance of the entire global weather system. 

Humanity’s last century indulging in wanton, frenzied consumption and thoughtless waste is definitely, if not definitively and irreversibly, already leaving a lasting effect on the planet and every form of life on it. Top down change in attitudes towards energy, pollution and consumption, as initiated by leading nations and multinational corporate entities, has now become a necessity, starting with the total shift from fossil fuels to renewables and new and more effective ways to store clean energy.

If the many ecosystems that make up planet earth's climate are one giant jigsaw puzzle, the oceans look increasingly like the biggest and most important piece of that puzzle.