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February 05 2014


Seeing Over the Horizon: Sharp Rise in Ocean Temperatures in 2013


What the recently stalled polar vortex over much of the eastern half of the United States makes clear is that we humans are, by nature, not well equipped to think globally. At least not when it comes to their physical surroundings. After all, cold is cold. So, for instance, if there is two inches of snow outside my Atlanta home and a city brought to its knees because of it, then global warming must be false, right? Just look outside!

It isn’t our fault. It’s the way we were made. To respond to our immediate surroundings and shut out the rest. Long ago, in the mists of time, it was a matter of survival. Times have changed. Our ability to see beyond our own horizon, both in time and space, is critical for our survival. We’ve gotten a lot better at it. But for some, it falls apart when considering global climate vs. local weather.

Where does global warming go?Ocean surface temperatures – where does the heat go?

All this by way of saying that, despite the repeated claims of a “global warming pause,” the climate system continues to absorb more and more heat energy. If land surface temperature hasn’t risen as much as some models predicted, then were is all this energy going? Consider that oceans cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface and you’ll have your answer.

In fact, oceans are 1000 times better at retaining heat than the atmosphere and for the past several decades (not just the past few years) the oceans have absorbed more than 93 percent of the CO2 released by human activity.

Figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (see the chart above), show a sharp rise in ocean surface temperatures in 2013. As noted in Skeptical Sciencethe recent NOAA data doesn’t necessarily portend a sharp acceleration in global ocean temperatures  due to “substantial year-to-year variation in heat uptake by the oceans.” But it does remind us that heat energy in the global climate system continues to accumulate. There is no “pause” in global warming.

The significance of warming oceans is more than data points on a chart. From bleached coral to disrupted fisheries, acidifying oceans and rising seas, the impact of heating oceans do not happen over some distant horizon, it is here and now, even as some dig out from a snowstorm.

Featured and secondary image credit: Skeptical Science
Ocean temperature graph: NOAA


The post Seeing Over the Horizon: Sharp Rise in Ocean Temperatures in 2013 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 31 2012


The Oceanic Conveyor Belt: Climate Change Tipping Points Being Reached in the Arctic, Western Boundary Ocean Currents

Accelerated changes in the Arctic are moving ocean currents poleward and threaten the oceanic conveyor belt

Two new research papers by authoritative climate research teams were announced this week — one on climate change tipping points being reached in the Arctic and a second on warming of long-distance, poleward-moving ocean currents. The results of the studies show that warming of both the Arctic and western boundary currents is happening faster than has been anticipated, prompting the researchers to publicly urge that efforts to adapt to abrupt climate change be intensified globally.

Climate Change Tipping Points in the Arctic

In “Abrupt climate change in the Arctic,” University of Western Australia (UWA) Ocean Institute researchers lead by director and Winthrop Professor Carlos Duarte found that the Arctic is warming at a rate three times faster than the global average, which has caused Arctic summer sea ice to melt and recede at a pace faster than researchers have forecast.

Arctic summer sea ice may be limited to the the waters off northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island in as short a period as the next decade, and is likely to disappear entirely by the middle of the century, according to a WA News report. The warming’s occurring so fast that it’s not only threatening Arctic ecosystems and traditional ways of life, the Arctic may change from being a net carbon sink to a net source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The fast warming Arctic is opening up new sea lanes and a bonanza of resource exploration and exploitation, as well as political controversy over resource rights. However, faster than anticipated warming and melting will also have “abrupt knock-on effects” across major world cities in northern mid-latitudes, a list that includes Beijing, Berlin, London, Moscow, New York and Tokyo. Tentatively linked is the occurrence of much colder winters in Europe.

Warming of Western Ocean Boundary Currents

Also published in Nature Climate Change, “Enhanced warming over the global subtropical western boundary currents,” is a global study of fast-moving, long-distance ocean currents, such as the Gulfstream, that distribute heat and moisture from warming tropical ocean waters globally.

Moving along the western boundaries of the world’s ocean basins, changes in water temperature of these currents also have significant, large-scale effects on climate globally. Releasing heat and moisture on their way from the equator to the poles, they affect atmospheric jet streams and mid-latitude storms and patterns, as well as ocean absorption of carbon dioxide.

Reconstructing and re-examining data sets using new methods, the research team found that “the post-1900 surface ocean warming rate over the path of these currents is two to three times faster than the global mean surface ocean warming rate. The accelerated warming is associated with a synchronous poleward shift and/or intensification of global subtropical boundary currents in conjunction with a systematic change in winds over both hemispheres.”

The faster than expected warming of these long-distance, poleward moving ocean currents “may reduce the ability of the oceans to absorb anthropogenic carbon dioxide over these regions,” according to the report’s authors. “Uncertainties in detection and attribution of these warming trends remain,” they note, “pointing to a need for a long-term monitoring network of the global western boundary currents and their extensions.”

The Oceanic Conveyor Belt and Climate Change

Though not stated by the authors, the increasing incidence of unusual extreme storms, such as 2011′s Hurricane Irene, which carried as far north as the US’ mid-Atlantic and New England regions, and Typhoon Washi, which struck the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, may be evidence of the faster than expected melting of Arctic ice and faster than expected warming of western ocean boundary currents.

Moreover, the changes in both Arctic sea ice and western boundary currents are both aspects of what’s now known as the “oceanic conveyor belt” – scientific knowledge that’s come to us thanks to groundbreaking hypothesizing, testing and research performed by Wallace Broecker.

The abruptness and scale of the climate changes that increasingly appear to be headed our way warrant much greater attention by world leaders and policy makers. While exaggerated for dramatic effect, they bring to mind the popular disaster film, “The Day after Tomorrow,” the science of which is based on a shutting down of the oceanic conveyor belt Broecker first theorized, and the occurrence of world-changing super-storms that bring on a new Ice Age in a matter of months.

As UWA’s Prof. Duarte was quoted as saying, “We need to stop debating the existence of tipping points in the Arctic and start managing the reality of dangerous climate change.”


Image credit: NASA Ocean Motion

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January 15 2012


Albatross boosted by Climate Change, study suggests

Climate Change may have helped boost survival chances of endangered albatrosses, scientists believe.

June 21 2011


State of the Oceans Report: Sending Out An SOS

State of the Oceans report sends stark warning for health of marine ecosystemsA preliminary report released today by an international panel of interdisciplinary marine scientists on behalf of the International Programme on the State of the Oceans gives a stark warning that unless the combined threats facing the world’s ocean are not curbed soon, a marine mass extinction could occur on a scale unprecedented in human history.

“The findings are shocking,” said IPSO Scientific Director Alex Rogers. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications become far worse that we had individually realized. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

The conclusions of the report are the product of a first-ever workshop bringing together marine experts and scientist from various disciplines to assess the latest ocean stresses and impacts, and to determine the effects of those multiple stresses on current and future ocean health. The workshop enabled these experts and scientists to engage a comprehensive, global view of the cumulative threats facing the ocean, and how they impact the future viability of ocean ecosystems.

From the report:

“This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater tha thte sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than expected”

The preliminary report posits seven key points to “drive a common sense rethink”:

  • Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the ocean and are now causing increased hypoxia (low oxygen)
    Studies of the Earth’s past indicate these three symptoms (warming, acidification, hypoxia) indicate “disturbances of the carbon cycle” associated with all five previous mass extinctions on Earth. The rate of carbon absorption by the ocean is already far greater than what it was at the time of the last globally significant marine mass extinction when up to half of some marine deep-sea species where wiped out.
  • The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from the IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating
  • The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood
  • Timelines for action are shrinking
    The longer we take to get serious about reducing carbon emissions, the more it will cost and the harder it will be to effectively make meaningful reductions. In the meantime, environmental damage will accrue causing greater socioeconomic impacts. The problem isn’t going away.
  • Resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stressors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution, and habitat destruction
  • Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors
    Among those stressors are chemical pollutants, overfishing, agricultural runoff, and sediment loads.
  • The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing

The report cites a wholly inadequate approach to management of marine resources and activities that impact the ocean, all of which have led to “intense multiple stressors acting together in many marine ecosystems.” These impacted ecosystems lack the resilience to withstand increased pressures from expanding human populations and increasing rates of CO2 emissions.

A spate of other research supports the findings of the IPSO study, all showing an ocean under severe threat, including disappearing coral reefs, rapidly increasing acidification, and growing incidences of marine life extinctions.

The IPSO report urges a change of human interaction with the ocean and adoption of a “holistic approach to sustainable management of all activities that impinge marine ecosystems.”

“This has to be part of a wider re-evaluation of the core values of human society and its relationship to the natural world and the resources on which we all rely.”

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June 09 2011


UN Panel Discussion on World Ocean Day

UN panel discussion: Oceans: Green Our WorldEditor note: This post originally published in Richard’s blog “The Green Marketplace” and is republished here with his permission

To mark World Oceans Day, the UN held a press briefing and a panel discussion at its Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, 8 June 2011. The subject of the briefing and panel discussion was Our oceans: greening our future.” It was moderated by professor David Freestone of George Washington University.

The UN formally recognized World Ocean Day (WED) in 2008, but early UN press conferences on WED were sparsely attended. In 2011 the room was full of interested parties.

The introductory remarks were delivered by Ms. Patricia O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel. She emphasized that World Oceans Day affords an opportunity to raise global awareness about the opportunities and challenges faced by our oceans. She indicated that oceans are a vital component of food security and depleted fisheries and marine environments are important issues for the global economy. She went on to say that sustainable development of the oceans and the equitable distribution of ocean resources are some of the
most serious challenges we face.

Here are some of the highlights from each of the four members that participated in the UN Panel Discussion on oceans:

Chandrika Sharma
Ms. Chandrika Sharma, spoke on behalf of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF). She indicated that 35 million people are dependent on ocean fisheries around the world. She also indicated that small scale fisheries are on the front lines of sustainable fishing, they are the first to notice and have a direct stake. She referenced the Rio Declaration’s principle of eradicating poverty as an indispensable component of sustainable development.

As explained by Ms. Sharma, small fisheries (artisanal fisheries) are part of the issue of eradicating poverty. Small scale fishing is more sustainable than industrial scale fishing. As such, efforts should be initiated to support small scale fishing and the fisheries they depend on.

Rashid Sumaila
Dr. Rashid Sumaila, University of British Columbia, Canada, spoke to the economic aspects of the oceans. He discussed challenges to the sustainable development of the oceans. He began by quoting Adam Smith, “The earth and the fullness of it belongs to every generation and the preceding one can have no right to blind it up from posterity.”

He believes that education can help economic, social and sustainable development. He points out the strong relationship between the environment and the economy and stresses the importance of the relationship between fish and people. He also indicates that we need more research on issues like illegal fishing. He spoke about the importance of close collaboration in sustainable development.

Amongst his research findings, Sumaila and his team have found that in Africa, $2.6 are returned for every dollar paid for fish, and in North America, $3.5 are generated for every dollar paid for fish.

He makes it emphatically clear that there are finite limits to what the ocean can provide. He also indicates that we need to protect and provide alternatives to fishing which would ease the pressure on the fish.

He further posits that fishing subsidies are not helpful as they do not reduce poverty and they do not help fish stocks. He concludes by suggesting that co-management of fisheries is better than the government or community management alone.

William Mott
Mr. William Mott is on The Ocean Project’s Leadership Council which is conducting massive social marketing and youth research. After working on policy issues, he has worked on building a constituency in the US. He has also worked on helping people and businesses to be more sustainable. He promotes conservation outcomes with Zoos, Aquariums and Museams (ZAMs).

The Ocean Project research surveyed over 22,000 Americans. Here are a few of the key findings that emerged out of the research:

  • Conservation is a core value for Americans, however, Americans do not see the oceans as under threat and they have very short attention spans.
  • Public concern about climate change has fallen but people still want to be seen as green. This is most true for young people between the ages of 17-21. The research also reaffirms the fact that the Internet is increasing daily, and youth are the most aware of both the Internet and environmental issues. There is public demand for information and recommendations, but much of this demand is being met by corporate powers beholden to the old energy economy.
  • Even though oceans are not a top-of-the-mind issue, they are nonetheless important to Americans. But the public fails to appreciate the relationship between climate change and the health of the ocean. Although awareness spiked during the BP disaster, it quickly melted away. According to the research, Americans do not trust the EPA and other government agencies but they do trust ZAMs which makes them ideal sources to disseminate conservation material.
  • Younger people have the strongest belief in personal responsibility and accountability. Many young people are already engaged in conservation action. Young people are future voters and they are already influencing their parents on a range of environmental issues that impact their parent’s buying decisions.

Four Major Implications

  1. Use personal solutions as a way of positively impacting the environment
    (rather than have education precede action).
  2. Discuss the problems in terms of their local impacts.
  3. Focus on youth which is an action-ready segment of the population.
  4. ZAMS are well positioned as well trusted messengers for a conservation

Teresa Mesquita Pessôa

Mrs. Maria Teresa Mesquita Pessôa, Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations talked about the green economy and sustainable development.
According to Pessôa, the rationale for conservation can be found in sustainable development. She stated that as a matter of UN policy, we have a duty and a general obligation to protect and preserve the oceans.

She makes the point that we are an ocean planet and sustainable development of our ocean’s resources impacts the social, economic and environmental pillars of our world. This issue is even more pressing given the prediction that there will be 6 billion people living on the coast in 2025.

Pollution from land based sources is causing 80 percent of ocean pollution. But unsustainable fishing methods are the single greatest cause of depleted fisheries.

Subsidies for fishing are very destructive, they allow fleets to fish longer, harder and further. Ocean acidification can be directly linked to human induced climate change and the increase of acidification threatens many species of marine life.

Pessôa says while professor Sumaila talks about the importance of education, she advocates the implementation of existing agreements like the FAO IPA of 2004. She believes that lack of scientific certainty should not be used to prevent cost effective measures of preventing the ocean’s degradation. She also indicates we need to define a regime of biodiversity and regulatory mechanisms that extends outside national borders.

She concludes by quoting Jacques Cousteau:

“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now as never before the old phrase has a literal meaning,
we are all in the same boat.”


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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December 03 2010


June 09 2010


June 08 2010


A Last Line of Defense? National Parks at Sea

More than 245 scientists from 35 countries signed a statement that asks government leaders around the world to consider designating large reserves of the ocean as protected areas.

June 04 2010


Now, New York Is His Oyster

Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the famous Jacques Cousteau and son of diver Jean-Michael Cousteau, is a noted deep-sea explorer and documentary filmmaker. His new nonprofit, Plant a Fish, focuses on ocean restoration efforts around the world, and begins with a project in New York Harbor.

April 18 2010


Millions of tiny microbes open new frontier in science

Millions of species new to science have been discovered in the most ambitious survey ever to look at tiny life forms at the bottom of the ocean.
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