Due to an increase in the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) and carbon dioxide (CO2), the oceans have been abruptly damaged. Destructive human activities have gradually caused acidification of ocean water, fluctuations in water temperature, and deoxygenation, leading to changes in diversity and richness of ocean species, mounting sea levels, variations in oceanic circulation, and amplified storm intensity.
The global businesses, food of the local people, physical environment, and economic structure have been affected due to the deprivation of marine and coastal ecosystems. It gradually weakens the capacity of oceans to provide food, ecosystem services, generation of oxygen, regulation of carbon dioxide, and adaptation of climate changes. By reducing pollutants, conserving water, preserving the quality of the environment, and developing sustainable management of resources, we can improve the health of oceans.
Fundamentals of Climate Change and the Ocean
Over 70 percent of the surface of our planet is covered with the ocean (with 97 percent of the earth’s water found in the ocean). It is now no doubt that oceans are a vital reason for the climate system. But due to destructive human activities, the earth’s climate is at risk. It is believed that if the situation doesn’t come under control, there is a higher probability that it can result in long-term irreparable changes.
Due to noticeable climatic changes, stronger storms and a rise in sea level have been a major concern. It is impossible to ignore the aftermath (destruction, loss of property, and infrastructure failures) it may cause if not regulated on early detection. With the help of the US Government, it can be prevented by implementing strict laws, policies, long-term programs, adaptation actions, and elevating capacity.
The prediction of Kulp & Strauss states that with a higher rate of emissions, the sea level may drastically rise, which will affect over 1 billion people due to annual flooding by 2100. It is estimated that over 230 million people can lose their homes to flood as the tide level can rise to 1 meter of height. Another devastating effect of climate change is the loss of the entire marine and coastal ecosystem. Several species of coastal beings can get vulnerable to extinction. Coastal erosion has been a major concern. Oceans can absorb CO2 even below 200 meters of range; all these facts greatly emphasize the fact to save the integrity and value our resources before they get completely nonexistent.
The temperature rise has eventually led to the melting of glaciers at an alarming rate. Ice collapse in the cryosphere and the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctic has already passed their tipping points. An increase in the level of CO2 has caused hazards in our environment. The imbalance of CO2 levels has affected the biogeochemical cycle of many other essential gases. It will take centuries to balance the nitrogen cycle, which is vital for many life processes. The changes in the pH level of water have caused ocean acidification which destroys ocean species, an increase in widespread diseases, less habitat, and low ocean productivity.
The Effects of Climate Change
Here are some ways through which oceans are getting affected due to the high rise in temperature:
Excessive increases and decreases in the temperature of the water, decline in nutrient rate, and lack of light energy lead to Coral bleaching. In any of these conditions, the corals eject the algae (zooxanthellae) existing in their tissues, causing the coral to turn white. Corals can survive the bleaching event, but it undergoes more stress and are highly vulnerable to mortality.
Between 1979 and 1990, mass bleaching of corals took place, affecting the rest of the areas of the world. In 2016, almost 29 to 50 percent of the reef’s coral was killed due to bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, resulting in the longest coral bleaching event. This was not it; the bleaching stretched into the central area of the reef around 2017 due to El Nino (infrequent warming of surface water in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean), resulting in damage to over 70 percent of the coral reefs. As of 2019, it is stated that large-scale restoration of corals won’t be effective. Refurbishment on an individual level is being carried out realistically and operatively to overcome the destruction of corals on a mass scale.
Migration of Fishes
Tropical countries rely greatly on fish resources for their economic stability. Due to the constant rise in the temperature of ocean water, the fishes migrate to cooler regions to maintain their thermal environment. The economies of tropical countries are at risk as ocean warming has eventually led to the loss of their resources.
There are absolutely no policy measures to mitigate the loss when a fish leaves a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It is estimated there will be a loss of 6-25 percent of fish species from EEZ of Northwest Africa by 2050, which is jaw-dropping. By 2100, a drastic dip in fish stock of 30-58 percent has been estimated. However, there are no laws or policies to compensate for this huge loss.
Damaging Impact on Wetlands
Wetlands prevent greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. It also helps in the inhibition of water pollution, recharges the groundwater level, supports habitat and species diversity, protects from the extinction of many exotic species, and prevents phenomena like strong floodwater flow and melting of snow.
The amount, timing of rainfall, and temperature changes lead to a rise in sea level, changes in the components and constituents of water, changes in habitat, flooding, and quality of the environment. The tree’s mortality rate goes higher, lack of moisture availability occurs, and vegetation for the communities gets disturbed on a major scale.
Acidification of Ocean
The phenomena in which a high amount of CO2 is absorbed by seawater results in a series of chemical reactions leading to a decrease in pH level, and carbonate ion concentration, and greatly affects the saturation state of calcium carbonate minerals which is an essential component (known as the building block of skeletons and shells) of marine species. The supersaturation and undersaturation of these minerals vastly impact the coastal organisms to produce and maintain their shells.
For example: In Pteropods, tiny pea-sized organism, a food source for many other marine species, undergoes drastic changes which lead to the dissolving of their shells due to the low pH of seawater. Food security and the economy have become major concerns. Another organism named Shellfish undergoes similar changes which result in total failure of their reproductive organs. The pathogen level increases and the amount of dissolved oxygen decrease on a major scale. Scientists and researchers are still working on measures to inhibit the acidification of ocean water. Strict laws and policies are to be implemented to prevent this hazard from continuing.
Alteration in Water Current
The variation in oceanic currents can have a great impact on the migratory patterns of many coastal species. They depend on currents for their reproductive habits and nutrition. For example, Coral reefs and other reef fish species directly depend on the dispersion of larvae by currents. It can have a global impact on marine life as well as human civilization. The changes in precipitation and air temperature can damage countless species.
Government Policies and Laws
According to 2014 COP21 and the 2015 Paris Agreement, steps are taken to prevent damage to marine species and to protect the climate.
- Limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius
- End subventions to fossil fuel creation
- Renewal of energies
- Adapting measures
- Sustainable management of biodiversity
The Intergovernmental Panel on climate change conveyed a special report in which over 100 scientists from 36 different countries pledged to alter the changes in the ocean and cryosphere part of our planet.
- Preventing glacier and ice sheets from melting
- Regulating greenhouse gases
- Averting ocean warming
- Preventing acidification of ocean water
Goal 14 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) highlights the need for the conservation of the ocean and sustainable use of marine resources (Admin, O. (2010)).
Goal 13 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) highlights the need to address the increasing effects of greenhouse gas emissions. (Admin, O. (2010)).
Proposed Climate Change Solutions
- Renewable energies – Switching to safer energy sources like wind, water, and biomass.
- Reduction of carbon footprints – Adapting eco-friendly ways for transportation.
- Preventing Air pollution – The quality of air should be maintained by reducing the number of industrial effluents being directly channeled into the atmosphere.
- Recycling – to limit the waste going into the ocean, as well as the energy required to make new materials.
- Sea and ocean conservation, including protecting marine life, corals, and irreversible damage to ocean properties.