Oceans cover 70% of the globe. It absorbs about 90% of the atmosphere’s heat and interacts with the global climate and weather. As such, oceans influence the climate and weather locally and globally; and the climate can change the oceans.
Oceans play a major role in influencing the climate and environment. 83% of the global carbon cycle is circulated through the ocean. The oceans protect us from ourselves, as it moderates the climate and slows the impact of global warming.
Unfortunately, the oceans are in a state of emergency: entire marine ecosystems are vanishing with the warming of the seas and as the waste of the world empties into the waters, the occurrence of devastating environmental crises is almost inevitable. Many of these changes are and will be irreversible. We must therefore act with urgency to mitigate this human-caused climate change.
Effects Of Ocean Warming
Ocean warming causes events that threaten those who live near or work on the ocean or rely on it for food. The consequences include droughts, floods, storms, melting glaciers, destabilizing major ice sheets, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and deoxygenation. It can also cause tsunamis, storm surges, rogue waves, cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons, coastal flooding, erosion, marine heatwaves and harmful algal blooms.
The ocean plays an important role in driving hydrological variabilities, such as droughts and pluvial over land, and interannual (and longer) timescales. Such events, together with various effects of hazardous substances and excessive nutrients, have the potential to threaten food security and hamper sustainable economic development.
Human activities have greatly altered the delicate balance in our environment; excess heat accumulation in the earth’s energy imbalance. Ocean warming is a direct consequence of this heat imbalance resulting in adverse impacts on biodiversity such as migration of species, rise in temperature, sea level rise and ocean acidification.
- Rise In Temperature: Rising ocean temperatures are making some extreme weather events worse by supercharging storms and altering global weather patterns. Warm surface waters provide energy for hurricanes and other tropical cyclones, increasing their frequency and severity. Over the past centuries, the average ocean temperature rose at an average of about 0.130F per decade and over the past 30 years, ocean surface temperature has been consistently higher. Weather patterns are changing due to warmer ocean temperatures because the ocean is key to the movement of water around the globe. Due to its enormous size, the ocean helps power weather by driving the planet’s evaporation and precipitation cycles.
- Rising Sea Level: the rising sea levels represents a slow, seemingly unstoppable threat. Seas are rising around the globe because the earth is warming. There are two contributing factors to the rise: seawater expands as it warms, and ice sheets and glaciers are melting into the ocean. For the past 25 years, the seas have not only been rising and the rate of that rise is increasing. By 2100, the seas could rise anywhere between five inches and 10 feet, depending on what actions we take. Since 1993, the seas have been rising at a rate that is twice as fast as a long-term trend. Rising oceans contribute to flooding.
- Ocean Acidification: Ocean water absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere which lowers its pH and results in higher acid contents, this reduces the concentration of calcium carbonate which makes it difficult for ocean species to form shells or skeletons. Roughly one-third of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by human activities is absorbed by the ocean. While this process offsets some climate impacts, when carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, it forms carbonic acid and decreases the pH of the water.
- Ocean Deoxygenation: Human activities are the primary cause of ocean deoxygenation in both coastal environments and in the open ocean. The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, agriculture, and other activities cause an increase in greenhouse gases like CO2, which causes the earth to warm.
The rapid rate of ocean warming and the devastating effects leaves us with one question: What do we do to reduce the rate of ocean warming?
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and controlling nutrient runoff to the ocean are the most important ways to reduce ocean warming. Burning fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, oil and gasoline raise the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. You can help to reduce the demand for fossil fuels which in turn reduces the emission of carbon in the atmosphere by using energy more wisely. Some of the actions to reduce carbon include
Reduce, reuse and recycle: Do your part to reduce waste by choosing reusable products instead of disposable ones, getting a reusable water bottle, buying products with minimal packaging to reduce waste, and whenever you can, recycle paper, plastic, glass and aluminium cans. By recycling half of your household waste, you can save 2400 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.
Drive less and drive smart: Less driving means fewer emissions, besides reducing gas emissions, walking and biking are great forms of exercise. Every gallon of fuel you save not only helps your budget but also keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Buy energy-efficient products: home appliances now come in a range of energy-efficient models using far less energy than standard appliances. Avoid products that come with excess packaging especially moulded plastics and packaging that can’t be recycled. If you reduce your household garbage by 10 per cent, you can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.
Plant a tree: during photosynthesis, trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen thereby reducing the pressure on the ocean. They are an integral part of the natural atmospheric exchange cycle here on earth. A single tree will absorb approximately one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.
Our planet is at a breaking point, but it is not too late to save it. To stop the damage to our oceans, we have to stop the emission of greenhouse gases thereby reducing the amount of carbon that is being absorbed by the ocean.
Author: Ajodo Andrew
Photo: National Geographic