Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Changing Climate Equals a Changing Ocean and Coast

White cliffs of Dover (Photo credit: Scott Sporleder) Click to Enlarge.
As countries meet this week at COP22, it is imperative that promises made last year at COP21 under the Paris climate accord are seriously pursued, including the Clean Power Plan and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition to tackling emissions, the world must also seriously examine, and address, climate change effects that are already impacting our coasts and ocean.

When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012, the U.S. received a sobering glimpse of what future sea level rise could look like.  Although it had long been theorized that climate change could intensify storms, it wasn’t until a few years after Sandy that studies indicated that climate change had intensified the hurricane and resulting devastation.  A Harvard geologist asserts that Hurricane Sandy’s 13-foot storm surge is an “example of what will, by mid-century, be the new norm on the Eastern seaboard.”

With Sandy spanning such an extensive area and affecting so many people, the economic impacts were equally devastating, causing more than $70 billion in economic damage.  For the first time since 1888, the New York Stock Exchange was forced to shut down for two days due to extreme weather.

While research suggests climate change will intensify storms and produce more extreme weather, it’s imperative to understand how our ocean and coastlines play a part in climate change.  More importantly, it is essential to recognize what can proactively be done to combat climate change impacts.

Our ocean is literally at the ‘center stage’ of climate change.  Nearly every aspect of climate change is related to the ocean and our coasts.  Many people aren’t aware that our ocean produces more than half of the Earth’s oxygen.  A recent study calculated that unbridled climate change due to continued greenhouse gas emissions would drastically affect the marine organisms and phytoplankton that generates breathable air.  The study concluded that “by 2100, the earth could have atmospheric oxygen levels comparable to the top of Mount Everest today.”

The ocean also absorbs more than half of greenhouse gas emitted.  As a result, high concentrations of CO2 are causing the oceans to acidify at rapid rates.  Evidence from the Pacific Northwest suggests drastic changes in ocean chemistry are detrimental to marine life, such as shellfish, as increasingly acidic water is dissolving the protective shells of sea creatures.  If climate change continues at its present rate, the pH level of the ocean will decrease by 150 to 200 percent by 2100.

One of the most significant aspects of climate change is Sea Level Rise (SLR), which occurs when glaciers and polar ice caps melt into the ocean.  SLR also occurs when water molecules expand as a direct result of higher ocean temperatures.  Since 1901, global seas have risen nearly eight inches.  A recent study projected that sea levels could rise between one foot and six feet by 2100, depending on the rate of ice caps and glaciers melting.  At the current rate, six feet is likely according to some scientists.

Read more at A Changing Climate Equals a Changing Ocean and Coast

No comments:

Post a Comment