The ocean moderates climate change at the cost of profound alterations of its physics, chemistry, ecology, and services. However, despite the ocean’s critical role in global ecosystem processes and services, international climate negotiations have so far only minimally touched on ocean impacts.
There is now an overwhelming consensus among marine scientists and policy experts that any new climate regime that fails to minimize ocean impacts will be incomplete and inadequate.
Climate change is already having a profound impact on ocean ecosystems. Increased ocean temperatures, sea level rise, altered weather patterns, changes in ocean currents, melting sea ice, and the effects of ocean acidification are upon us.
The ocean is critical to life on Earth through its regulation of atmospheric gases, stabilisation of planetary heat, and provision of food and resources to well over 3 billion people worldwide. Despite its importance, however, our understanding of impacts of key climate change drivers such as ocean warming and acidification has been relatively limited.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014 included an unprecedented level of recognition given to ocean issues (www.ipcc.ch) by including a number of ocean-focused chapters for the first time. AR5 has identified serious risks to marine ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal livelihoods.
OceansInc will be talking to scientific and policy experts in Paris about the critical importance of the ocean’s role in regulating our Earth system, and the risks we face in losing its vital services. We will also be assessing the options for solutions, for example how climate financing can be directed towards ocean/coastal initiatives that will benefit both mitigation and adaptation.
Key Ocean Statistics and Information presented in the IPCC 5th assessment report in 2014:
- Oceans cover more than 70% of the planet
- Half of the production of O2 in the earth system is happening in the ocean
- Oceans provide 20% of the animal protein consumed by 3 billion people.
- Climate change causes oceans to warm and stratify (where the naturally occurring different layers of warmer and colder and less or more salty water do not mix effectively, disrupting normal nutrient supply for marine species) and sea level to rise, as well as Arctic summer sea ice to shrink.
- Ocean warming accounts for more than 90% of the energy accumulated in the climate system.
- Warming causes oceans to lose oxygen overall and during an expansion of hypoxic (depleted oxygen) water layers.
- The accumulation of anthropogenic CO2 in ocean surface waters disturbs water chemistry and causes acidification.
- Ocean warming has caused geographical shifts in the distribution of marine species, with some migrating further north, away from equatorial waters.
This short film produced by French scientists in 2015 explains the impacts of climate change on the ocean.