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'Oceans Are Sending Us so Many Warning Signals': New UN Climate Change Report

Oceans
'Sunset in the Oil Belt' in Claxton Bay, Trinidad, West Indies. Leslie-Ann Boisselle / World Meteorological Organization

It's time for low-level coastal communities to head for the hills. Once-in-a-hundred-years sea level events will be an annual occurrence by 2050.


The oceans will rise three feet by 2100, fish will struggle to survive, ocean currents will weaken, snow and ice will start to vanish, and we will need to brace for stronger and wetter hurricanes and harsher El Niño weather systems, according to a new UN report released Tuesday, as the AP reported.

The report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders in policymaking, warns that warming seas are contributing to a drop in fish populations, and ocean oxygen levels are dropping while acidity levels are starting to spike, which threatens fragile marine ecosystems. The warming waters are also fueling wetter and more intense hurricanes and cyclones, as The New York Times reported. The fact is ocean surface temperatures have been warming steadily since 1970, and for about the past 25 years, they've been warming twice as fast.

"The oceans are sending us so many warning signals that we need to get emissions under control," said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a lead author of the report, to The New York Times. "Ecosystems are changing, food webs are changing, fish stocks are changing, and this turmoil is affecting humans."

The IPCC's Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate includes contributions from more than 100 scientists from 36 different countries. It highlights the bleak state of the most remote parts of the world, where rapid thawing of ice sheets and glaciers is changing the landscape of the polar regions and will affect people and animals all around the globe for decades.

This report is unique because for the first time ever, the IPCC has produced an in-depth report examining the furthest corners of the earth — from the highest mountains in remote polar regions to the deepest oceans," said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the IPCC, as CNN reported. "We've found that even and especially in these places, human-caused climate change is evident."

Half of the world's largest cities and nearly 2 billion people around the world live on the coasts. If global heating is restricted to just 2 degrees Celsius, scientists still predict $7 trillion in damage every year and millions of migrants, according to a new study published last week, as The Guardian reported.

"The future for low-lying coastal communities looks extremely bleak," said Jonathan Bamber at Bristol University in the UK, who is not one of the report's authors, to The Guardian. "But the consequences will be felt by all of us. There is plenty to be concerned about for the future of humanity and social order from the headlines in this report."

The report found that of the major ice sheets, Greenland is melting the fastest. When it melts completely, it can add 17-23 feet to sea levels, according to a NASA study published earlier this year. The report found that Greenland has averaged an annual ice loss of 275 gigatons from 2006 to 2015. The Anatarctic ice sheet also saw its ice loss mass triple from 2007 to 2016 compared to the previous decade, as CNN reported.

The IPCC scientists say that changes they see in parts of Antarctica could be the first signs the ice sheet there has reached a point of no return, but they warn that more research is needed.

"If this is true, then there is a chance of a multi-meter sea level rise within the next two to three centuries," said Regine Hock, a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a coordinating lead author on chapter two of this IPCC report, as CNN reported. "That is very substantial."

The IPCC report does have suggestions that leaders should take to slow ocean warming and sea level rise. Not surprisingly, the scientists called on world leaders to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, which is the main culprit in the climate crisis. The scientists said the global economy must shift dramatically to reduce emissions, as NPR reported.

The report does say that if greenhouse gas emissions are curtailed immediately, some impacts of ocean acidification could be avoided, according to NPR.

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