oceans, climate change, temperature riseScience 

Climate Change Outlook: The Oceans

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With a lot of buzz being generated by the decaying of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the unprecedented melting rate of the polar caps and the risks entailed by rising sea levels, a lot of questions have been asked about just how all these factors are intertwined and what exactly it means for our oceans. Lets take a look.

Great Barrier Reef Underwater Bleaching
Great Barrier Reef Underwater Bleaching, source: ARC Center of Excellence, Coral Reef Studies, photo by Ed Roberts

So far, as a result of climate change, sea temperatures have increased by almost 1˚Celsius (1.8℉) and is expected to rise further. This is due mostly to the high amount of carbon absorbed by our oceans and the rising temperatures worldwide. By itself, a warming ocean can cause several issues, some of which can be seen already. This change in temperature has led the photosynthetic aspect of corals to be inhibited, leading to the loss of the zooxanthellae that is integral to corals’ ability to photosynthesize — this leads to coral bleaching, and can severely weaken coral reefs and their various processes.

On top of this, the increased absorption of carbon dioxide means the oceans are also becoming more acidic, which continues to reduce corals’ abilities to regenerate and survive already harsh conditions. So whilst the Great Barrier Reef is struggling, it is the small atoll nations of the Pacific that are facing the brunt of it.

What exactly does sea level rise entail
What exactly does sea level rise entail?

As current predictions show, the aggravated melting of our polar ice caps as a result of higher temperatures is leading to a noticeable increase in sea level – one that wouldn’t be as significant if not for the rate at which it is happening, and the vulnerable state of corals at the moment. Bleached corals are unable to create the supply of sediment needed for reef-island maintenance or their resilience and ability to adapt to the changing sea-levels. Without the supply of sediment from the surrounding coral reef, these islands are incredibly susceptible to rising sea levels.

Disregarding loss of land, displacement of the peoples living on said lands and slow death of coral reefs, there is an even more serious issue looming as oceans get warmer and more acidic: ecological collapse. Indeed, as has been shown throughout history in multiple others ways across the globe, our environment is a complex web where every action has a reaction. The changes we are seeing in the ocean now are hinting at a less than desirable future: fish stocks dwindling as a result of less available food, therefore creating a chain collapse reaction that could lead our oceans becoming a haven of jellyfish and little less.

editor p.s. On a fantasy side of things; Game of Thrones – White Walkers can be compared to real world climate change… If we don’t unite in our fight to stop White Walkers, death will come for us all…

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