Image credit: NBC News
Increasing ocean temperatures are one of the best indicators of how Earth’s climate is changing. This is because the oceans absorb excess heat in our planet’s system before the atmosphere does. While ocean heat storage is somewhat beneficial in the sense that it keeps heat out of the atmosphere, there are numerous consequences associated with warming oceans. Unfortunately, a recent study has shown that ocean temperature increase is accelerating – confirming predictions previously made by climate models. This accelerated warming spells danger for ocean ecosystems and for people as well.
Many species of ocean plants and animals can only live within specific temperature ranges. As ocean temperatures change, species that can move will migrate to places with more appropriate temperatures. Species that cannot move will perish. We currently see this happening in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which lost roughly half of its coral between 2016-2018. This loss can be attributed to elevated water temperatures in the Australian area of the Pacific Ocean.
These changes in aquatic ecosystems affect economies worldwide. First, many people around the world depend on fishing and selling their catches. Changes in fish/shellfish species in an area mean changes to how – or even whether – these people are able to make a livelihood. Other economies depend on ecotourism, which is when people visit a destination for experiences like scuba diving or snorkeling. As ecosystems that lend themselves to such activities disappear, tourism in these areas will collapse, bringing local economies with them.
Warming oceans also provide fuel for devastating hurricanes. These storms form where water is warm, and use the energy provided by warm water to grow in size and strength. Warmer ocean temperatures mean there is more energy available for hurricanes to grow. The more energy in a hurricane, the more rainfall it produces, and the higher winds it carries. Wind and rain cause the devastating impacts of hurricanes, from flooding to downed trees and power lines. It is likely that with warmer oceans, we will see more catastrophic hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Florence that have hit the United States in the past two years.
The best course of action in response to this information is to increase the amount of electrical power generated by renewable sources like wind and solar energy. However, technologies like fish farming and aquaculture may serve as a good adaptation to changing oceans and ensure that people who make their living by fishing can continue to earn money; and economies that rely heavily on this industry can continue to function.
©2018 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
For more about the Great Barrier Reef: https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/04/19/half-of-the-great-barrier-reef-coral-has-died-since-2016/#3954b37e5f9f