The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Record-Warm Oceans: How Worried Should We Be?
By Ilissa Ocko
The world's oceans are heating up. Scientists have found that 2018 was the hottest year ever recorded for our oceans, and that they are warming even faster than previously thought.
When documenting global warming trends, we often focus on air temperature. But the oceans actually absorb more than 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by human emissions of greenhouse gases. So if we really want to know how much our planet is warming up, we look to the oceans.
And what the oceans are telling us is alarming.
Using multiple measurement devices, scientists from across the globe found that the amount of heat in the upper part of the world's oceans in 2018 was the highest ever recorded since observations began in the 1950s. In fact, the past five years are the warmest years on record and the increase in ocean heat has been accelerating since the 1990s.
Scientists also found that the oceans are warming faster than data previously published in a 2013 landmark report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Studies now show that in recent decades, the rate of warming in the upper ocean—the top 2,000 meter or 6,500 feet layer of the ocean—was about 40 percent higher than the earlier IPCC estimates showed. The new data, made possible by vast improvements to ocean heat records in recent years, is also consistent with model projections of ocean warming.
So how worried should we be?
Why Warmer Oceans Matter
Rising ocean temperatures are a major concern for societies and ecosystems across the globe. Hotter oceans lead to:
- rising sea levels when water molecules expand from increasing temperatures, and then erode coasts, threaten infrastructure and contaminate freshwater with intruding saltwater.
- heavier downpours and widespread flooding because more ocean water evaporates as temperatures increase, supplying the atmosphere with more moisture.
- more destructive hurricanes because of the increased moisture in the air and higher sea levels that worsen storm surges.
- dying coral reefs as the corals' colorful algae, their main food source, leave the corals due to heat stress. This bleaches corals of their vivid colors, causing them to starve, while affecting the survival of thousands of species that live in the reefs.
- fish moving poleward because their current habitats are becoming too warm, disrupting fisheries.
There Is Still Time
Recent scientific reports have concluded that our greenhouse gas emissions so far have not yet committed us to future warming levels that can cause catastrophic climate impacts. That is great news.
There are, in fact, countless reasons to feel hopeful. Numerous countries are reducing greenhouse gas emissions while growing their economies. Renewable energy sources are increasingly more affordable. And new technologies, such as carbon dioxide removal, are emerging.
Oceans are warning us, and we need to act now. As disconcerting as this oceans news has been, there's still time.
Ilissa Ocko is a climate scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.
- What warmer oceans mean for the planet - CNN ›
- Global warming of oceans equivalent to an atomic bomb per second ... ›
- The oceans are warming faster than we thought, and scientists ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images
By Jennifer Molidor
One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.
"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.
Company Safety Data Sheets on New Chemicals Frequently Lack the Worker Protections EPA Claims They Include
By Richard Denison
Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).
By Grant Smith
From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.
By Brett Walton
When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.
In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.
This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.
If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
- Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change ›
- How working less could solve all our problems. Really. | ›
- Needed: A shorter work week – People's World ›