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Climate Matters: World Oceans Day Edition

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Happy World Oceans Day!

  • 93% of the excess heat from climate change goes into Earth's oceans.

  • Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to a more acidic ocean.

  • Story idea: SOCCOM is an ongoing NSF-funded project investigating the effects of climate change on the Southern Ocean.

HOT WATER

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Humans are pumping more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That’s trapping excess heat and causing the surface of the planet to warm. However, surface warming accounts for only about 7% of the excess heat our planet is taking on. The other 93% goes into the oceans, setting the stage for more extreme storms, rising sea levels, melting sea ice, and a host of other impacts.

One of the most visible impacts of higher ocean temperatures is coral bleaching. Coral reefs are ecosystems that serve several important societal purposes — protecting coastlines, supporting fisheries, and drawing tourism dollars globally. When ocean temperatures get too high, the symbiotic relationship between corals and their algae becomes disrupted. During a bleaching event, the coral expels the algae, depriving the coral of both color and nourishment. The starving coral then turns white and is more susceptible to disease, and ultimately, death.

We are currently experiencing the third — and by far the longest — global coral bleaching event the world has ever seen. The 1998 El Niño sparked the first event, the second came during the 2010 El Niño, and the current bleaching, which began in 2014, will likely continue into 2017. The latest surveys show that 93% of the Great Barrier Reef has suffered from bleaching, and 35% of corals have been killed. In addition, recent research found that climate change made this bleaching event 175 times more likely.

Suggested Social Share

Can’t take the heat? Get out of the oceans! That’s where 93% of our excess heat is stored. http://bit.ly/1Habfe4 via @climatecentral #climatematters #worldoceansday

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ACIDIFICATION

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In addition to taking up heat, the oceans also play a key role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. About one quarter of all excess carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere is taken up by the world’s oceans (and half of that absorption happens in the Southern Ocean). As it dissolves, it reacts with water and produces carbonic acid. The process depletes the ocean of carbonate ions, which many organisms, including corals, use to build shells and reef structures. Too few carbonate ions means too little food for other sea life and a lack of material to build coral reefs.

Suggested Social Share

The rise in CO2 is changing our ocean’s chemistry. Read more about acidification @WXshift http://bit.ly/1QtFxvH via @climatecentral #climatematters #worldoceansday

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SOUTHERN OCEAN

STORY IDEA — SOCCOM: Southern Ocean Carbon
and Climate Observations and Modeling

The Southern Ocean accounts for three quarters of the heat absorption by the world’s oceans, and about half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption.

Despite its intrinsic role in the global climate, this particular ocean has gone almost completely unobserved. Scientists have struggled to gather precise measurements on its deep waters because of the harsh environment and extreme remoteness. Climate Central is collaborating with nine other organizations including Princeton University, NOAA, and NASA on an NSF-funded, $21 million research project called Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM). Scientists will collect biogeochemical data (including pH, oxygen content, nitrate, and organic matter) from the Southern Ocean using robotic floats. This data will be used to build and calibrate Earth System Models (ESMs), which will be able to predict how the Southern Ocean will react as more heat and more carbon dioxide are added.

Interview Opportunities:

SAVE THE DATE!

Hang out with SOCCOM scientists on
Google Hangouts on June 29.
Details to come in next week’s Climate Matters.

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