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Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Listening to the Ocean

This is a guest blog post. The article was adaped with permissions from Sofar Ocean.

What has climate change done to oceans? And what do our oceans do for climate change?

For more years than we can count, oceans have helped us mitigate climate change, including the early effects of human greenhouse gas emissions. Acting as a giant carbon dioxide and heat absorber, or "sink", 90 percent of the warming that happened on Earth between 1971 and 2010 occurred in the ocean. Scientists think that gathering more and better data from the ocean and "listen" to what it has to tell us could be crucial to helping our mitigation efforts catch up to climate change.

Unsplash (CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay)

But why the rush?

 Sea levels are rising at an accelerating pace. From 2018 to 2019, we doubled the global average sea level rise taking from from 3.2 millimeters per year to 6.1 millimeters per year. This is partly due to thermal expansion (warm water expands), and partly due to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, which go from being solid water on the land, to extra water in the ocean. As a result of sea levels rising, floods increase in number and severity, and shoreline erosion is accelerated, destroying habitats, interfering with agriculture, and contaminating water sources.

Hotter climates are more volatile, and extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Hotter surfaces mean more and more sudden rainfall, hurricanes, and hotter atmospheres mean more water evaporates and storms happen.

Ocean acidity has increased by 30% since the industrial revolution. When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it rips the oxgen out of water molecules, leaving behind hydrogen ions or acid. This acid can adversely affect plants and animals living in the ocean, and accelerate the rates of erosion of rocks. Carbonate ions in the water are also depleted, and many shellfish and other sea life rely on these for growing their shells. Rapidly, the whole food chain is affected.

These changes are big. Fast. And its simply not true that ocean data is adapting and growing as quickly. Much of the current scientific data is siloed and inaccessible, making it difficult for scientists and policy makers to work together.


How could we improve it?

Affordability: The bulk of ocean research is currently undertaken by a small number of wealthier countries – leaving many coastal nations out of the exercise entirely. The tech needed to collect information isn't cheap, and there's a good chance of losing it at sea. Cheaper, more accessible equipment is needed to drive interest and investment from poorer countries.

Open data: A drive towards open data and lower fee barriers to publication would also improve data sharing and global ownership of information. Collecting ocean data into combined tags, networks, and lakes will mean fewer people repeating teh same work, faster innovation, and more collaborations between experts. However, companies need to be incetivised to do this. Some ways this might be achieved is through payoff from improved oil exploration or fishing opportunities.

These changes could be transformative. But it involves working together just like the oceans and the atmosphere.

This is a guest post by Ayesha Renyard. The article was adapted from this one with permissions from Sofar Ocean.

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