Climate Change and the Ocean

Since the Industrial Revolution human activities have been emitting more carbon dioxide (CO ₂ ) into the earth’s atmosphere than ever before. CO ₂ emissions have increased by approximately two billion tons per year since the late 18th century, bringing about measurable changes in the conditions of the world’s oceans which include: increased surface temperatures, measurable reduction in the size of the polar ice caps, rising sea levels, increased ocean acidification and in the pattern of ocean currents circulation.   All of these observed effects have the capacity to bring about change in the ecosystem of the world’s oceans which could have consequences for the ecology of planet Earth as a whole.

Increased seawater temperatures bring about a number of changes in the ocean including:

  • The increased transport of warm water from the equator to the north and south polar regions
  • Reduced solubility of carbon dioxide in seawater, which in turn releases more CO2 into the atmosphere
  • Changes in the geographic distribution of plankton, which in turn brings about -
  • Changes in the geographic distribution of stocks of fish – including prime food species such as cod and salmon

In addition, since the oceans are the prime drivers of the world’s weather, changes in ocean conditions are bound to bring about meteorological changes, which in turn effect or impinge on human activities. In recent years we have witnessed extreme weather conditions and significant loss of life through major tsunamis, drought, storms and flooding which have wiped entire towns and villages in many parts of the world.


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