Huge problems of the oceans and people

Absolutely all inhabitants of the Earth directly or indirectly depend on the ocean and the cryosphere. Due to climate change, sea levels rise, oceans become warmer, lose oxygen and become more acidic; glaciers and permafrost melt. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published a Special Report on the Oceans.

Over 100 scientists from 80 countries of the world worked on the special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC); it was prepared with the account of the latest data. Experts considered the impact of climate change on the oceans, which cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, as well as on glaciers and ice sheets.


The authors of the report show how the well-being of 670 million people in the highlands and 680 million people in the low-lying coastal zones directly depends on the health of oceans and the cryosphere (frozen parts of our planet). According to scientists, great trials are awaiting those who live in the coastal zones. Over the past century, sea level has risen by 15 cm, and today this process is happening twice as fast. Further on, the pace will only accelerate facilitated by the melting of glaciers in the polar and alpine regions.


“The oceans and the ‘ice corners’ of the world have huge problems, and that means we all have huge problems too,” says Michael Oppenheimer, one of the leading authors of the IPCC report.


Scientists conclude that “a bad scenario for sea level rise by 2100 will be an increase of 60–110 cm with the current level of greenhouse gas emissions”. Moreover, this scenario is not the worst. If emissions are even higher, an increase of more than 2 meters “cannot be ruled out.” According to the report, more than 80% of the current mass of glaciers will melt by 2100; some glaciers may completely disappear within this period.


According to the authors of the report, in non-polar regions with fairly slight ice cover, such as Central Europe and North Asia, the predicted effects of climate change are much clearer.


As follows from the IPCC special report, due to climate change, major changes are already taking place in the chemical composition of the oceans. Since 1980, the ocean has absorbed about one third of CO2 emissions caused by human activities. This led to acidification of the ocean, and if people do not stop harming nature, the situation will quickly get worse.


Warming, acidification and loss of oxygen are the major threats to marine ecosystems. When warming, the layers of water mix poorly; this leads to a reduction in the supply of oxygen and nutrients. According to forecasts, by the end of the century, the ocean will absorb 2-4 times more heat than in the past fifty years, if global warming is kept at 2°C, and 5-7 times more under extra negative scenarios.


It is expected that in the future, zones of lowest oxygen content, in which only specially adapted organisms can live, will increase, and these chemical changes pose a particular threat to highly productive areas of the ocean, where nutrient-rich waters rise from the depths. 


The IPCC report clearly states that the enormous changes in marine biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by the oceans will entail serious socio-economic changes in the upcoming years. Climate change will affect the life, lead to loss of livelihoods, changes in agriculture, tourism and other key sectors engaging millions of people.


The effects of climate change on the ocean are already affecting marine life populations. For humans, this means new losses: an increase in the number of extremely hot days is predicted, which, according to scientists, already today negatively affect the fishery.


“Human communities are highly dependent on the ocean through the goods and services provided by marine ecosystems. The cost of economic activity in the ocean is estimated at trillions of dollars; they create hundreds of millions of jobs,” the authors of the report state.


According to the IPCC report, landslides and floods associated with the cryosphere pose a threat to human life and infrastructure. The rise of sea levels will increase frequency of floods and devastating storms. The most powerful blows of the elements that used to occurr once a century, in the future, will happen every year, scientists warn.


Climate change can “radically transform” migration flows. Some island states “may” become “uninhabited” as early as this century. It is predicted that health care costs due to the impact of climate change on the ocean will cost the world economy $428 billion a year by 2050, and $1.979 trillion a year by 2100.


“By 2050, 70% of the Arctic infrastructure will be located in the regions at risk of thawing and lowering permafrost. Adaptation measures taken in advance can halve the costs associated with warming and other impacts associated with climate change, such as increased floods, rainfall and freezing...,” the report says.


Lack of adequate adaptation strategies can turn climate change into an even bigger problem in the coming years. However, destructive processes can be stopped, scientists say. “To keep global warming well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial indicators is possible only through the implementation of unprecedented transitional measures in all areas of public life, including power production, land use, ecosystems, urban economies and infrastructure, and industry,” stresses Debra Roberts, one of the leaders of the group of scientists who worked on the report.


“In the near future, state leaders will have the opportunity to discuss the IPCC new data during the UN Climate Conference in Chile (СОР25),” says Olga Senova, Climate Secretariat of the Russian Socio-Ecological Union (RSOES). “The problems of the oceans and the cryosphere are directly related to Russians, and this is another challenge for strengthening common actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reinforcing Russia’s actions in this area. Members of environmental NGOs are also waiting for the adoption of the National Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change. We hope that in the near future regional adaptation plans will be developed and working groups with public participation will be formed to contribute to this process.”

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