The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — which is, in fact, the UN body responsible for communicating on the deteriorating climate — has officially recognized the oceans as a critical component in the climate change crisis. Warming ocean temperatures are becoming commonplace and are melting ice sheets and glaciers and contributing to rising sea levels. Additionally, the warm waters affect the ocean’s oxygen levels. As these phenomena accelerate toward a tipping point, nature’s ecosystems will be disrupted, and human society will be adversely affected.
The IPCC’s announcement of its Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate — which is based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles — signals a crucial milestone. If things remain as the status quo, then ecological upheaval is imminent.
Our oceans comprise an important habitat that many living things, including humans, rely on for food and sustenance. Oceans also collectively absorb more than a quarter of the human-made carbon dioxide being produced, while simultaneously providing half of the oxygen created on our planet. Similarly, more than 90 percent of the heat generated via greenhouse gas emissions is likewise absorbed by our oceans. In this way, the oceans play a significant role in global climate regulation.
But our climate is in dire crisis. Rising global temperatures are making oceans warmer through marine heatwaves. Warm ocean water is less likely to hold oxygen, leading to subsequent ocean acidification. Plus, warmer waters bleach coral reefs and also increase the likelihood of water chemistry disruptions, so that both bacterial and algal blooms become more common, as do red tides.
Marine biodiversity is thrown off-kilter, leaving certain ocean regions devoid of life. Mass endangerment and extinctions of particular marine species becomes inevitable, and fishing yields dwindle considerably. Hence, for the 70-member coalition known as the Ocean and Climate Platform, the ocean’s sustainability comes into question.
To stem the tide of climate catastrophe, the authors of the report are warning humanity and calling for policy change. If human-induced warming continues, there will come a time when the damage can no longer be healed. Immediate collaborative action is required, before it is too late, to reverse and remedy the climate crisis.
Image via Oregon State University