Urgent Warning from Scientists: Health of Oceans Spiraling Downwards
By Alex Kirby
Marine scientists say the state of the world's oceans is deteriorating more rapidly than anyone had realized, and is worse than that described in last month's UN climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
They say the rate, speed and impacts of ocean change are greater, faster and more imminent than previously thought—and they expect summertime Arctic sea ice cover to have disappeared in about 25 years.
Their review, produced by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, agrees with the IPCC that the oceans are absorbing much of the warming caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
But it says the impact of this warming, when combined with other stresses, is far graver than previous estimates. The stresses include decreasing oxygen levels caused by climate change and nitrogen run-off, other forms of chemical pollution, and serious overfishing.
“The health of the ocean is spiralling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought," said Professor Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford, IPSO's scientific director. "We are seeing greater change, happening faster and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated."
“What these latest reports make absolutely clear is that deferring action will increase costs in the future and lead to even greater, perhaps irreversible, losses," said IUCN’s Professor Dan Laffoley.
The review says there is growing evidence that the oceans are losing oxygen. Predictions for ocean oxygen content suggest a decline of between one and seven percent by 2100.
The loss is occurring in two ways: through the broad trend of decreasing oxygen levels in tropical oceans and areas of the North Pacific over the last 50 years, and because of the "dramatic" increase in coastal hypoxia (low oxygen) associated with eutrophication, when excessive nutrient levels cause blooms of algae and plankton.
The first is caused by global warming, the second by increased nutrient runoff from agriculture and sewage.
The authors are also concerned about the growing acidity of the oceans, which means "extremely serious consequences for ocean life, and in turn for food and coastal protection." The Global Ocean Commission reported recently that acidification would make up to half of the Arctic Ocean uninhabitable for shelled animals by 2050.
"At high latitudes pH levels are decreasing faster than anywhere else because water temperatures are lower, and the water is becoming more acidic," Professor Rogers told the Climate News Network. "Last year, for the first time, molluscs called sea butterflies were caught with corroded shells."
When atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations reach 450-500 parts per million (ppm) coral reefs will be eroded faster than they can grow, and some species will become extinct. Projections are for concentrations to reach that level by 2030-2050: in May they passed 400 ppm for the first time since measurements began in 1958.
With the ocean bearing the brunt of warming in the climate system, the review says, the impacts of continued warming until 2050 include reduced seasonal ice zones and increasing stratification of ocean layers, leading to oxygen depletion.
It also expects increased releases from the Arctic seabed of methane, a greenhouse gas at least 23 percent more potent than CO2 (the releases were not not considered by the IPCC); and more low oxygen problems.
Another stress identified is overfishing. Contrary to claims, the review says, and despite some improvements, fisheries management is still failing to halt the decline of key species and damage to ecosystems. In 2012 the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said 70 percent of world fish populations were unsustainably exploited.
The scientists say world governments must urgently reduce global CO2 emissions to limit temperature rise to under two degrees Celsius—something which would mean limiting all greenhouse gas emissions to 450 ppm.
They say current targets for carbon emission reductions are not enough to ensure coral reef survival and to counter other biological effects of acidification, especially as there is a time lag of several decades between atmospheric CO2 emissions and the detection of dissolved oceanic CO2.
Potential knock-on effects of climate change, such as methane release from melting permafrost, and coral dieback, mean the consequences for human and ocean life could be even worse than presently calculated. The scientists also urge better fisheries management and an effective global infrastructure for high seas governance.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Disturbing footage of a snake in Goa, India vomiting an empty soft drink bottle highlights the world's mounting plastic pollution crisis.
By Melissa Hellmann
When her eldest son was in elementary school in the Oakland Unified School District, Ruth Woodruff became alarmed by the meals he was being served at school. A lot of it was frozen, processed foods, packed with preservatives. At home, she was feeding her children locally sourced, organic foods.
By James O'Hare
There are 20 million people in the world facing famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. In developed nations, too, people go hungry. Venezuela, for instance, is enduring food insecurity on a national level as a result of economic crisis and political corruption. In the U.S., the land of supposed excess, 12.7 percent of households were food insecure in 2015, meaning they didn't know where their next meal would come from.
Artists are taking the climate crisis into frame and the results are emotional, beautiful and stirring.
So you've seen the best climate change cartoons and shared them with your friends. You've showed your family the infographics on climate change and health, infographics on how the grid works and infographics about clean, renewable energy. You've even forwarded these official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graphs that explain the 10 clear indicators of climate change to your colleagues at the office.
As the Trump administration moves full speed ahead on boosting the oil and fossil fuel industry, opposition to increased pipeline construction is cropping up in different communities around the country.
By Simon Evans
Last Saturday, two dead whales washed up on the coast of Suffolk, in eastern England, and a third was spotted floating at sea.
What happened next illustrates how news can spread and evolve into misinformation, when reported by journalists rushing to publish before confirming basic facts or sourcing their own quotes.
By Monica Amarelo and Paul Pestano
Sun safety is a crucial part of any outdoor activity for kids, and sunscreen can help protect children's skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. Kids often get sunburned when they're outside unprotected for longer than expected. Parents need to plan ahead and keep sun protection handy in their cars or bags.
By Joe McCarthy
A lot of people take part in community clean-up efforts—spending a Saturday morning picking up litter in a park, mowing an overgrown field or painting a fence.