As greenhouse gases continue to trap energy from the sun, it causes the oceans to absorb more heat, resulting in an increase in sea surface temperatures and rising sea level. Changes in ocean temperatures and currents brought about by climate change will lead to alterations in climate patterns globally. At the front line of climate change, the ocean, the coastlines and coastal regions are being disproportionately impacted by increasing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases from human activities.
The increased CO2 emissions are also making the ocean more acidic, causing many marine species and ecosystems to be increasingly vulnerable. Higher acidity is damaging many ocean species that use calcium carbonate to form their skeletons and shells. It also appears to be affecting whole ecosystems, such as coral reefs, which depend on the formation of calcium carbonate to build reef structure. In turn, the building up of reef structure provides homes for reef organisms. The result of reduced amount of sulfur flowing out of the ocean into the atmosphere reduces the reflection of solar radiation back into space, resulting into even more global warming. Increased acidification can also limit the ability of fishes to detect predators which causes disruptions to the food chain. This disruption and destruction of coral reefs and shellfish will have profound impact on humans, chiefly in the decreased supply of food for people who rely on the ocean for it (“Climate Change”).
The Effect on the Antarctic Region by Rising Sea Water Levels
As the oceans continue to warm up due to the persistently rising temperatures, the Arctic sea ice in the wintertime continues to dip to new lows. The Antarctica is shrinking from underneath as submerged ice is rapidly melting. The effects of this warming on iconic species such as polar bears are well documented. A dramatic decrease in sea ice and seafood pushes these iconic bears toward coastal communities and hunting camps to find food, becoming a nuisance and danger to people who reside there. Under the surface, though, the problem is not less urgent. As sea ice diminishes, algae diminish, which has ripple effects on species from Arctic cods to seals, whales, and bears. Sea ice is a critical habitat for Antarctic krill, the primary food source for many seabirds and mammals in the southern ocean. As sea ice continues to melt away, Antarctic krill populations have declined, resulting in declines in the species dependent on the krill. With the rise of sea levels accelerating at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year, the effects on humanity are obvious. Though only 2 percent of the world’s land lies at or below 10 meters above sea level, these areas contain roughly 10 percent of the world’s human population, all directly threatened by sea levels rising (Pink, pars 4-6).
According to the Fifth Assessment Report, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013, it is revealed that between 1901 to 2010, the global sea level rose by 19 cm as oceans expanded due to warming and the amounts of snow and ice melted. In addition, the average sea level rise is predicted to be 24-30 cm by 2065 and 40-63 cm by 2100, relative to the reference period of 1986-2005. Unfortunately, even if emissions of the greenhouse gases are stopped, most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries (“The Ocean and Climate Change”).
For decades, the ocean has been absorbing carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels and capturing the extra heat that elevated atmospheric that gases produce, but even the ocean has its limits. The key to sustainable management, conservation, and restoration of coastal and marine ecosystems is to harness existing opportunities. One example is conserving certain coastal carbon ecosystems under the reducing emissions from deforestation, and forest degradation (REDD+) mechanism as well as implementing the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. This will help to support the continued provision of carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services on which people depend upon.
Relevant Source Links:
“Climate Change.” United Nations, (n.d), https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/. Accessed 24 May 2020
“The Ocean and Climate Change.” Issues Brief, IUCN (n.d), https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/ocean-and-climate-change. Accessed 24 May 2020
Pink, Jessica. “5 Ways that Climate Change Affects the Ocean.” Conservation International, 7 Jun 2018, https://www.conservation.org/blog/5-ways-that-climate-change-affects-the-ocean