The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Oceans Do Us a ‘Huge Service’ by Absorbing Nearly a Third of Global CO2 Emissions, but at What Cost?
From wildfires to more extreme storms, the effects of climate change are already devastating communities around the globe. But the effects would be even worse if it weren't for the oceans, new research has confirmed.
That is because the world's oceans absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise stay in the atmosphere. Between 1994 and 2007, oceans absorbed 34 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, or 31 percent of what humans put into the atmosphere during that time, a study published Friday in Science concluded. That means oceans absorbed the weight of 2.6 billion Volkswagen Beetle cars in carbon on average each year during the study period, study author and senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle Richard Feely told The Seattle Times.
"[It's] a huge service the oceans are doing that significantly reduces global temperature," Feely said.
The ocean is able to absorb carbon dioxide in two steps, a press release from ETH Zurich, one of the institutions involved in the study, explained:
- Carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean's surface water
- Ocean circulation distributes and sinks it into deeper waters, where it builds up.
Scientists had long thought this was the case, but the study, which looked at more than 100,000 seawater samples from all parts and depths of the ocean, confirmed their models.
"The oceans have been taking up carbon dioxide recently in exactly the way we thought they would," University of Washington associate oceanography professor Curtis Deutsch, who was not involved with the research, told The Seattle Times. "There's nothing really surprising about the results, but they are super important in confirming that we really do understand the system and the way it operates."
So far, the researchers found, oceans have increased the amount of carbon dioxide they absorb as atmospheric levels have increased. However, there will come a point when this will no longer be the case.
"At some point the ability of the ocean to absorb carbon will start to diminish," study author and NOAA climate scientist Jeremy Mathis told Mashable. "It means atmospheric CO2 levels could go up faster than they already are."
The ocean sink should continue to work as it does now for the next 50 years, however, Mashable reported.
But it does so at a cost. An increase in carbon dioxide in the ocean leads to ocean acidification, which can dissolve the calcium carbonate that makes up mussel shells and coral skeletons, and interrupt processes like fish breathing.
"Documenting the chemical changes imparted on the ocean as a result of human activity is crucial, not least to understand the impact of these changes on marine life," research team leader and ETH Zurich environmental physics professor Nicolas Gruber said.
This is already harming the ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest, where Feely works."The increasing load of carbon dioxide in the ocean interior is already having an impact on the shellfish industry, particularly along the U.S. West Coast," Feely told USA Today.
- The Ocean's Carbon Balance ›
- Scientists study ocean absorption of human carbon pollution | John ... ›
- Ocean Carbon Uptake ›
- What is happening in the ocean? | NASA Climate Kids ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Cathy Brown
Most of us have heard about UN researchers warning that we need to make dramatic changes in the next 12 years to limit our risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty caused by climate change. Report after report about a bleak climate future can leave people in despair.
Losing weight, improving heart health and decreasing your chances for metabolic diseases like diabetes may be as simple as cutting back on a handful of Oreos or saying no to a side of fries, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.
It's important to remember that one person can make a difference. From teenagers to world-renowned scientists, individuals are inspiring positive shifts around the world. Maybe you won't become a hard-core activist, but this list of people below can inspire simple ways to kickstart better habits. Here are seven people advocating for a better planet.
Scotland produced enough power from wind turbines in the first half of 2019, that it could power Scotland twice over. Put another way, it's enough energy to power all of Scotland and most of Northern England, according to the BBC — an impressive step for the United Kingdom, which pledged to be carbon neutral in 30 years.
By Jessica A. Knoblauch
It's been a particularly terrible summer for bees. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is allowing the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor back on the market. And just a few weeks prior, the USDA announced it is suspending data collection for its annual honeybee survey, which tracks honeybee populations across the U.S., providing critical information to farmers and scientists.
tommaso79 / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Rachel Licker
As a new mom, I've had to think about heat safety in many new ways since pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable to extreme heat.