Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Oceans in Distress


       When discussing climate change topics, we often focus our efforts and energy towards the depleting rainforests and the negative effects of overpopulated urban cities.  Rarely does our attention shift to one of the bigger players in the climate control space: our oceans.  These vast bodies of water cover over seventy percent of the Earth's surface.  Plentiful with marine life, the oceans' depths contain an unknown number of species still yet to be discovered.  And they're in trouble.





       Two major factors are affecting our oceans today: temperature and acidity.  As the planet warms through increasing climate changes, so do the oceans.  Accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are retaining more of the sun's energy.  Because much of that heat is absorbed in the oceans, our atmospheric temperatures do not warm as rapidly.  This, however, is having an adverse affect on ocean sea life.  Ecosystems are dependent on particular temperature ranges, and when those ranges are disrupted, so too is the life that thrives below the surface.  Here is a chart from the EPA's Ocean Heat site reflecting the overall oceanic temperature changes from the last 60 years:

      The other devastating change that is occurring in our planet's waters is an increase in acidity.  Not only does the ocean help absorb the heat trapped in the atmosphere, it regulates carbon dioxide as well.  According to the EPA, it is estimated that oceans have absorbed up to 28% of the our carbon dioxide emissions in the last 250 years.  While this has helped humanity, it has certainly caused havoc on marine life.  The higher concentrations of CO2 in the water increases the acidity levels, which in turn prevents certain sea life from producing the mineral calcium carbonate.  This mineral is essential for the development of hard shells and skeletons in corals, some plankton, and other sea creatures.  Damage is already beginning to be seen worldwide, and if acidity levels continue to rise, some estimate our generation's grandchildren will only be able to see corals through old photographs.  The EPA published the following chart that shows the correlation between carbon dioxide levels (the left column) and acidity levels (the right column):

       Our pursuit to slow down climate change cannot simply be limited to the lands we inhabit.  Taking into account the entire planet, we must look to one of the biggest resources we have available to us in helping regulate atmospheric changes.  To learn more on how to reduce carbon emissions and on oceanic changes visit:

http://www.noaa.gov/ocean

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/oceans

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/reducing-emissions

-Mandy Alvarado

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