Posts Tagged ocean

Thin Ice: what polar science is telling us about climate Gareth Renowden Jun 30

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This guest post is by professor Peter Barrett, executive producer, and Suze Keith, marketing advisor for Thin Ice.

Scientists can tell human stories about climate change, and a group of us have been working on just that for the last few years. We’ve produced a film — Thin Ice – the inside story of climate change — which follows a scientist, geologist and camera buff Simon Lamb, who is concerned at the flak his climate science colleagues have been taking.

Simon travels from the Antarctic to the Arctic. He listens to scientists talk about their work, hopes and fears, and discovers how the astonishing range of research really does fit together. By the end there are just two messages – that our ultimate goal should be zero carbon emissions (in line with the latest IPCC report), and that science really does work. As paleoclimatologist Dave Harwood says to young people at the end of the film:

Don’t be scared by this thing. Come and join in our effort. Be the best scientists and engineers you can, and we’ll deal with it.

But does the film work? You be the judge and let us know (add your comments below). Reports from the global launch last April (200 sites world-wide) were enthusiastic. As film distributor Green Planet Films CEO Suzanne Harle says:

I love this film. It’s like a one-to-one chat with the scientists. They do come to an alarming conclusion, but at least you can see why, and what has to be done to deal with it.

It’s also working with community groups and schools. Terry Burrell, leader of the science team from Wellington’s Onslow College, screened the film in a 5 week course on climate change involving both science and social studies for Year 10 students. “Many students before watching the film saw it simply as something people had opinions about. Thin Ice explains the science so clearly.” Terry will running a workshop on the film and course at the NZ science educators conference next month.

Others find the film useful because of questions it raises, such as who you trust for reliable information, and of course how can we reduce carbon emissions.

Thin Ice is a David Sington/Simon Lamb film, and a collaboration between Oxford University, Victoria University of Wellington, and DOX Productions, London. The film is available with subtitles in 6 languages by streaming, download or DVD to individuals from, and to educational institutions and community groups through

The website also supports over 30 free video shorts, which explore climate science topics further, and provides background information on the scientists. As an example, here’s VUW’s Tim Naish (and others) discussing the Andrill seabed core and what it tells us about the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet:

Something (early) for the weekend: grim forecast for oceans and the roots of denial Gareth Renowden Oct 17

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Something of a miscellany today, coupled with an open thread, to keep you going during a brief pause in posting. First up: a study published this week in PLOS Biology looks at changes in ocean chemistry, temperature and primary productivity over the next century under two emissions scenarios, and finds that no corner of the ocean escapes untouched. From Science Daily:

“When you look at the world ocean, there are few places that will be free of changes; most will suffer the simultaneous effects of warming, acidification, and reductions in oxygen and productivity,” said lead author Camilo Mora, assistant professor at the Department of Geography in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. “The consequences of these co-occurring changes are massive — everything from species survival, to abundance, to range size, to body size, to species richness, to ecosystem functioning are affected by changes in ocean biogeochemistry.”

It’s been a productive few weeks for Mora: he was lead author on a recent study1 published in Nature that estimated when climate in different parts of the world would move beyond anything experienced in the last 150 years — have a play with this interactive map to find out when your part of the world will move into the unknown. See also Climate Central, Science Daily, and a huge amount of press coverage.

Nicely complementing Mora’s oceans study, Sebastian Ostberg and others from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research looked at terrestrial ecosystems and found that “80 percent of the planet’s ice-free land is at risk of profound ecosystem transformation by 2100″. As you might expect, business as usual emissions scenarios have the biggest impact, but even strong mitigation won’t prevent significant changes. From Science Daily:

…even if the warming is limited to 2 degrees, some 20 percent of land ecosystems — particularly those at high altitudes and high latitudes — are at risk of moderate or major transformation, the team reveals.

Physics Today‘s October issue includes an excellent overview of the rapid climate change taking place in the Arctic — The Arctic shifts to a new normal. (hat tip to John at the warren). For a very clear explanation of how Arctic changes can influence northern hemisphere atmospheric circulation, see Dr Ricky Rood’s latest post at his Wunderground blog.

David Archer at RealClimate extols the virtues of the new eight week Science of Climate Change course starting soon on Coursera. It sounds like something worth exploring, even if you don’t complete the full course or only play with the visualisations. I might be bold, and suggest that attendance should be compulsory for all climate cranks, sceptics and deniers.

Oh dear, I used the “d” word. Expect lots of faux outrage from those in denial of the need to act on climate change — but as Josh Rosenau of the National Centre for Science Education points out, the roots of that usage of the word go back long before any imagined link with genocide in Germany during WW2.

While NZ’s own little coterie of cranks and deniers lick their wounds over a lost court case, one of their “science advisers” has rushed into print in the NZ Herald drawing the longest of long bows on the import of some recent research on atmospheric aerosol formation. Chris de Freitas, the Auckland University geographer (not an atmospheric physicist or chemist, note) who long ago sold his soul to the Anything But Carbon (ABC) crowd, decides to suggest that the new research means that NZ’s pastoral farmers are working to cool the planet and should get more carbon credits than foresters. Considering that CdF consistently argues we don’t know enough to act on climate change, it’s immensely hypocritical of him to oversell the relevance of an interesting, but preliminary piece of research. For a somewhat more sane discussion of the study, see RealClimate.

And finally: I’m going to be taking a break from HT for a while, because I’m going into hospital tomorrow for what the surgeon describes as a relatively minor procedure on my inner ear2. I hope to be back at my keyboard sometime next week, if all goes well. Please accept my apologies in advance if comments get stuck in moderation, or other issues arise.

  1. Full text, free!
  2. Endolymphatic sac surgery, which if all goes well should put an end to the vertigo attacks associated with Meniere’s disease in my left ear — but it does mean drilling a hole in my skull. I’ve asked for a processor and memory upgrade while he’s in there… ;-)

The Climate Show #26: All the news that fits Gareth Renowden May 04

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Aafter a busy month of harvesting (Gareth) and breakfast broadcasting (Glenn), the Climate Show returns with all the latest climate news: from the thinning of Antarctic ice shelves and the intensification of hydrological cycle (floods and drought, that is) to satellites capturing solar energy and beaming it down to earth, we’ve got it all. And if that weren’t enough, John Cook looks at a new paper that explains the apparent lag between warming and CO2 increase at the end of the last ice age, and tips us off about an excellent outtake from ABC’s recent I Can Change Your Mind about Climate documentary, featuring Naomi Oreskes.

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The Climate Show

News & commentary: [0:02:30]

WMO confirms 2011 as 11th warmest in long term record

’It was the warmest decade ever recorded for global land surface, sea surface and for every continent.’


Warm ocean currents cause majority of ice loss from Antarctica: Scripps, British Antarctic Survey.

“What’s really interesting is just how sensitive these glaciers seem to be,” added Pritchard. “Some ice shelves are thinning by a few metres a year and, in response, the glaciers drain billions of tons of ice into the sea. This supports the idea that ice shelves are important in slowing down the glaciers that feed them, controlling the loss of ice from the Antarctic ice sheet. It means that we can lose an awful lot of ice to the sea without ever having summers warm enough to make the snow on top of the glaciers melt – the oceans can do all the work from below.”

Climate Progress coverage.

Dry parts of the planet to get drier, wet parts wetter: The Conversation, Science Magazine.

Kiribati as a refuge for corals: Pacific Islands May Become Refuge for Corals in a Warming Climate, Study Finds

World needs to stabilise population and cut consumption, says Royal Society

Key recommendations include:

  • The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.
  • The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.
  • Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.
  • Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.

Guardian coverage.

Debunking the sceptic [37:15]

John Cook from talks about I Can Change Your Mind About Climate.

The telling outtake: Naomi Oreskes with Nick Minchin:

Dealing with the “lag”:

Solutions [1:00:00]

Tinted Windows that Generate Electricity: A German company borrows the materials and manufacturing process of OLED displays to make a new kind of solar panel.

NASA Funding Satellite That Would Beam Solar Power Down to Earth

Blimp with a blower:

Solar Thermal Heating Could Eliminate CO2 Emissions from Cement Production

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, Sciblogs, Scoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

Shang a de Lange Gareth Renowden May 03

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Much exercised by the question of ocean warming, New Zealand’s most litigious temperature savant posts excerpts from an article on the subject, and thanks Waikato University’s Willem de Lange for introducing him to this “really clear treatment of ocean warming and ocean-atmosphere interaction”. Two things are interesting about Treadgold’s post, and neither has anything to do with the contents of that article1.

The piece, by oceanographer Robert E. Stevenson (deceased), was published in the summer 2000 edition of 21st Century Science & Technology magazine. This is interesting in and of itself, because 21st Century Science & Technology is is an organ of the Lyndon LaRouche movement, centred on an oddball and extremely fringe US politician. We last encountered LaRouche when exploring the footnotes in Ian Wishart’s remarkable climate book Air Con. Amongst many strange things, LaRouche believes that the President of the US and Prince Philip are conspiring to reduce the population of the world from 7 billion to 2 billion, and that financier George Soros is their henchman2. 21st Century Science & Technology espouses what might be charitably described as non-mainstream views on many science-related subjects, from the “swindle of special relativity” to global warming as “hoax“.

Which leads me to the second interesting thing: does Waikato University’s Willem de Lange, one of the tiny coterie of climate sceptics still active in New Zealand academic circles, listed by his university as an expert on “tsunami and storm surge prediction and mitigation; wave-induced sediment transport; dispersal studies; climate change; oceanography”, really regard Stevenson’s article as a credible reference? Would he be prepared to defend this 12 year old article’s interpretation of the physics of ocean warming against his peers? Or was he perhaps just digging around for a little chum to throw to the less well-educated hordes who congregate around Treadgold’s pulpit desperate for anything to support an oddball contention, that ocean warming somehow has nothing to do with the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? You be the judge…

You might think that de Lange, Treadgold and Lyndon LaRouche make for strange bedfellows, but when you have nothing better to turn to, I suppose — as Steven Stills so memorably sang — you have to love the one you’re with. Rather a pity for all their credibility, what little might be left of it.

[Bay City Rollers for the title, Steven Stills (& CSJT) for the close.]

  1. Life’s too short, basically, to debunk an article of dubious provenance now 12 years old.
  2. No, really. Check the link.

Cuckoo cocoon (Prat Watch #5.5) Gareth Renowden Apr 16

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Something stirred inside the carefully cultivated cocoon of ignorance at Richard Treadgold’s Climate “Conversation” blog, but I don’t think it was the butterfly of understanding preparing to inflate its wings. Something much more subterranean, I suspect. Needled by my post about said cocoon (namely, Treadgold’s insistence that “global warming has not happened for about 15 years, unless you take a micrometer to the thermometer“), RT issues a bold challenge: Well, where’s your evidence, Renowden?

He heads his post with a graph lifted from JunkScience (that well known purveyor of same), showing the HadCRUT3 monthly temperature series from 1978 to date. Amusingly, Treadgold makes an error before he even begins the meat of his diatribe. The caption he provides to the graph includes this:

The graph that proves no significant warming for about 15 years — since about 1996. Measured by satellite, not the unreliable hand of man.

The HadCRUT3 global series is most assuredly not a satellite generated temperature record. But we’ll let that pass, shall we, and take a quick canter through an answer to his challenge. I shall ignore Mark Twain’s advice just this once, in the hope that some light may shine in to the dark corners of his misunderstanding.

The first, and most important thing to do is to define what we mean by global warming. Here’s my stab at a definition: the accumulation of energy in the climate system caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We know that CO2 and other GHGs are accumulating in the atmosphere, and we know where they’re coming from: we did it. The energy comes from the sun, and when the earth is neither warming nor cooling, the amount reaching the earth’s surface is balanced by the amount being radiated back to space.

So how do we measure the accumulation of energy in the system? It’s obvious — more energy means (to a first approximation) that everything will be getting warmer. So let’s take a look at where most people live — on land.

Yup. Looks like we’re warming. Even — perhaps especially — over the last 15 years1.

But most of the surface of the planet is not land. Seventy percent is ocean, and water is a very big player in the climate system, in all sorts of ways. In fact, the oceans are absorbing most of the energy accumulating in the climate system:

Let’s look at that another way:

So when we agonise about wiggles in the surface temperature, we’re ignoring the big player — the oceans. But global average temperature is an important metric of warming, much better documented that ocean heat content, so agonise we must. I downloaded the HadCRUT3 monthly data, and the annual averages for HadCRUT3 and the new HadCRUT4 series2, and plotted 1990 to date on this graph (click to embiggen):


The graph says a lot, but perhaps the most obvious has to do with variability. Monthly global averages bounce up and down a lot. When you look at annual averages, you smooth the data quite a lot (because you’re taking 12 months and bunging them together), and this allows you to cut through the noise. Look at the monthly data (the grey line). It’s difficult to eyeball that and get a feel for any underlying trend. There’s too much wiggle going on. That is, of course, why Treadgold and his compatriots in climate denial like to present the data in that fashion: it confuses the issue.

The annual averages paint a less detailed, but more comprehensible picture. It’s pretty clear that warming has not stopped in either series, but most certainly not in HadCRUT4, where both 2005 and 2010 are warmer than 1998, the HadCRUT3 warmest year. In both series, it’s obvious that the 2000s were warmer than the 1990s3. The red line through the last 15 years of HadCRUT4 data shows quite clearly that the trend remains upwards.

But where do all these wiggles in the temperature come from? We saw earlier that the oceans are the biggest player in the global energy budget, and its well known that ocean cycles such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) can have a marked effect on global average temperature. El Niño events push a lot of heat into the atmosphere and create warm months and years, while La Niña events do the reverse. The 1998 spike in the monthly HadCRUT3 is associated with one of the strongest El Niño events in the record. Other sources of up and down influences are the 11 year solar cycle (warming and cooling) and volcanoes (cooling).

Can you estimate the effects of oceans, the sun and volcanoes and remove them from the temperature record to leave a picture of the underlying trend? Yes, you can, and that’s exactly what Grant Foster and Stefan Rahmstorf did in their recent paper Global temperature evolution 1979—2010, and this animated graph shows what’s left when you clean up the data…

Undeniable warming — or warming that’s undeniable to people that live in the real world.

But what about some confirmation that warming hasn’t stopped? We saw earlier that about 0.2% of the energy imbalance is going into the Greenland ice sheet. This is what it’s doing:

Not much sign of a slowdown there: the ice is melting, and so are the world’s glaciers…

The bottom line: global warming cannot stop until the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere has peaked, and the climate system has had a chance to reach equilibrium — which will take 30 years as the oceans warm up4. Monthly and annual global average temperatures will continue to wiggle around the long term trend as ocean cycles move heat around, but barring major volcanic eruptions or the intervention of aliens, the accumulation of energy will continue until the planet is back in energy balance with space.

I leave you with one of Skeptical Science’s finest moments, which illustrates all too well the wishful thinking on display at Climate “Conversation”. Call me a realist…

[A very big tip of the hat to Skeptical Science's excellent graphics resource. Thanks John!]


  1. It’s interesting to note that Treadgold’s preferred temperature series is the one that shows least warming. What, did someone mention cherries?
  2. The HadCRUT4 series is an improvement because it includes data from regions not covered in HadCRUT3, including many in high northern latitudes where warming has been most pronounced, and hence has less of a “cool bias” in comparison to GISS or NOAA, for example.
  3. The 1990s average anomaly was 0.22ºC, the 2000s 0.38ºC. In global temperature terms, quite a jump, and one well in line with expectations.
  4. For the “fast response” parts of the system. Sea level equilibrates over much longer time scales (we hope).

Oceanographers win PM’s science prize for climate work Gareth Renowden Dec 16

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This year’s NZ Prime Minister’s Science Prize — worth $500,000 — has been awarded to a team of scientists working on climate-related issues at the joint Otago University and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) Centre for Chemical & Physical Oceanography. The team carried out ground-breaking research on using iron to fertilise phytoplankton growth in the southern ocean, and its effectiveness at removing carbon from the atmosphere. Team leader Professor Philip Boyd commented:

Around the world, there is a growing lobby, which includes influential people like Bill Gates, for using geo-engineering to claw back some of the carbon dioxide humans are emitting. Our research has shown that adding iron to the ocean is not going to be an effective way to do that.

You can hear Professor Boyd talking about the research in episode #6 of The Climate Show, and Professor Keith Hunter, co-director of the Centre was interviewed in Climate Show #16. ’It’s the top prize in science in the country and it’s an outstanding award for science at Otago,” Hunter said today. The centre plans to spend most of its winnings on a state-of-the-art phytoplankton culture facility in Dunedin. Other members of the team were Dr Evelyn Armstrong and Dr Kim Currie of NIWA’s research unit, Associate Professor Russell Frew, Dr Sylvia Sander, and Dr Robert Strzepek (all of Otago University), Dr Cliff Law, NIWA principal scientist, and Dr Rob Murdoch, NIWA’s general manager of research.

The 2011 MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist prize was awarded to Dr Rob McKay, a world-leading glacial sedimentologist at VUW’s Antarctic Research Centre for his work using marine sedimentary records and glacial deposits to reconstruct Antarctic climate over the last 13 million years.

The full list of winners is available here. Congratulations to all.

The Climate Show #20: the boys are back (on Tuvalu) Gareth Renowden Oct 20

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Battling against rural broadband that resembled digital molasses (or the bunker oil being pumped out of the Rena), Gareth returns to NZ and joins Glenn Williams and John Cook to discuss drought in Tuvalu, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), floods and sea level falls, ocean cooling (that isn’t), solar towers of power and much, much more…

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold…

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The Climate Show

News & commentary: [0:05:54]

Tuvalu, La Nina/ENSO and water

Tuvalu drought could be dry run for dealing with climate change ’I believe the odds for a La Niña winter have indeed risen to near 100%, with the ‘fall window’ of disrupting this evolution closing rapidly. However, it does not appear likely that we will see as strong an event as in 2010-11.’

The research team, which was led by Samantha Stevenson (University of Colorado Boulder) and includes NCAR scientists Markus Jochum, Richard Neale, Clara Deser, and Gerald Meehl, used the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model (CCSM) to simulate the effects of climate change on ENSO over the 21st century. They found no significant changes in its extent or frequency.

However, the warmer and moister atmosphere of the future could make ENSO events more extreme. For example, the model predicts the blocking high pressure south of Alaska that often occurs during La Niña winters to strengthen under future atmospheric conditions, meaning that intrusions of Arctic air into North America typical of La Niña winters could be stronger in the future.

And while we’re talking about ENSO…

The strong La Nina caused intense rainfall in Australia and Brazil – enough to cause a downward blip in sea level rise… confirmed by GRACE satellite measurements.

Meanwhile, on sea level:

’For the two more realistic scenarios, calculated based on the emissions and pollution stabilizing, the results show that there will be a sea level rise of about 75 cm by the year 2100 and that by the year 2500 the sea will have risen by 2 meters.’

Worst case: ’sea levels will rise 1.1 meters by the year 2100 and will have risen 5.5 meters by the year 2500.’

Starbucks concerned world coffee supply is threatened by climate change.

New climate science roundup

NIWA’s new Climate Change Atlas:

Debunking the skeptic, John Cook from [0:35:50]

Ocean Cooling? (No it’s not).

Model-based evidence of deep-ocean heat uptake during surface-temperature hiatus periods (Meehl et al 2011)

Solutions [00:45:45]

Solar Decathlon results:

NZ team finished third:,

The Kiwi bach of tomorrow:

Sky-scraping Tower Will Power 100,000 Homes with Hot Air

A 2,600-foot tower planned for the Arizona desert will be the world’s second tallest structure and will be able to power 100,000 homes through hot air alone.

NASA issues award in green aviation competition

On Monday, the space agency issued the award to team of State College, Pa., as part of the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency, or CAFE, Green Flight Challenge.

The competition, sponsored by Google, was created to inspire the development of more fuel-efficient aircraft and spark the start of a new electric airplane industry, NASA said. The winning aircraft had to fly 200 miles in less than two hours and use less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity.

Electric car infrastructure begins to roll out across the UK

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, SciblogsScoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

The Climate Show #15: Michael Ashley and the ineducable Carter Gareth Renowden Jun 29

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We thought we’d try for a record short show — and failed, because once again there was just to much to talk about. We have more on Eritrean volcanoes, extreme weather over the last 18 months, a new report on the dire state of the oceans, and Stoat’s big bet. Special guest is Professor Michael Ashley from the University of New South Wales, discussing the state of play in Australia, John Cook does a rapid debunk of Bob Carter, and we have electric cars, more flow batteries and the gas we do not want to smell.

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download here:

The Climate Show

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

News & commentary: [0:05:00]

The eruption of Nabro in Eritrea: Earth Observatory image.

Follow the action at Dr Erik Klemmeti’s Eruptions blog, watching Nabro from space.

Extreme weather – Jeff Masters chips in: Hot Topic post, Jeff Masters post, Neville Nichols on Aussie heatwaves.

State of the oceans report – not a good read:

Sea ice bets: $10,000 on the line at Stoat.

Interview: Professor Michael Ashley of the Department of Astrophysics at the University of New South Wales [0:19:50]

Journey into the weird and wacky world of climate change denial at The Conversation.

Monckton calls Garnaut a Nazi.

Debunking the sceptic, with John Cook of Skeptical Science [0:44:50]

Bob Carter op ed, and…

John Cook riposte.

Bob Carter: ’Between 2001 and 2010 global average temperature decreased by 0.05 degrees’
’…slight global cooling over the past 10 years’

The PIG is flying: Pine Island Glacier melt rate doubles.

Solutions [00:58:20]

ReFuel – An electric car-fest

More on flow batteries – this one’s grid scale

Shale gas/fracking and why it isn’t any kind of solution to anything

Trailer for Gasland.

The outrageous British chat show host whose name completely escapes me.

Thanks to our media partners:, Scoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

The state of the ocean (dire) Gareth Renowden Jun 23

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Alex Rogers, Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology at Oxford, and scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean describes the main problems affecting the global ocean – and discusses some of the things we could do to address them in this new video. The IPSO has just launched the summary of its forthcoming report on the state of the oceans1 — PDF here. The key findings make sobering reading:

  • Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the oceans and are now causing increased hypoxia.
  • The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst case scenarios from 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.
  • Resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by other stressors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution and habitat destruction.
  • Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors.
  • The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing.

The bottom line is not pretty:

[...] we now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation. Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effect of climate change, over exploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean.

The report recommends immediate action on reduction of CO2 emissions, calls for a long list of actions to restore and protect marine ecosystems, and the formation of a new Global Ocean Compliance Commission to establish rules and regulations for the protection of the “high seas” — the ocean beyond national jurisdictions.

This is a cri du coeur from the world’s ocean scientists. We ignore it at our peril…

[See also Climate Progress, and the NZ Herald. The IPSO site also has more videos from workshop participants, and a great ocean cycles graphic.]

  1. Rogers, A.D. & Laffoley, D.d’A. 2011. International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts. Summary report. IPSO Oxford, 18 pp

Earle: everything in the oceans at risk Bryan Walker Mar 19

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“We are committed to developing deepwater energy supplies offshore.” Those blunt words from the US Administration were put to oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Stephen Sackur late in a captivating BBC Hardtalk interview I watched a few days ago. What chance, he asked, did her message about the plight of the oceans stand in the face of the determination of governments to exploit the massive fossil fuel sources under the oceans?

Before giving her response I’ll briefly provide a little context. Sylvia Earle is a famed oceanographer who 40 years ago headed the first team of women so-called aquanauts in an underwater habitat programme. She was chief scientist at NOAA in the early nineties, has continued to be engaged in deep ocean exploration, was named Time magazine’s first ‘hero for the planet’ in 1998 and received the 2009 TED Prize. Now in her mid-seventies she continues to be a strong advocate of marine reserves and ocean protection and exploration generally. Earlier in the Sackur interview she’d explained how the ocean dominates the way the world works and pointed out that most of life on earth, in terms of both volume and diversity, is in the ocean. She’d outlined some of its importance for our own life. Imagine, she said, what changing the chemistry of the ocean might do.

The ocean is in grave peril. She instanced her visit a couple of weeks back to the same place where she lived as an aquanaut in 1970.  In that space of time what had been a magnificent diverse coral reef, home to many varieties of fish, had turned to “rubble”.  90 per cent of big fish have gone from the ocean. About half of all coral reefs have gone or are in a state of great decline.

Part of the rectification lies with changing current fishing methods, which she described as like using a bulldozer to catch songbirds in a forest. But it’s her comments related to global warming that I want to catch here. When Sackur invited her comment on the government commitment to continued deep sea drilling I imagine he was expecting her to speak about the damage to the marine environment it could potentially continue to cause. She has expressed concern about the recent Gulf oil spill and its aftermath and is engaged in the study of its effects. Also, in the past when she was with NOAA she was involved with both the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the deliberate release of oil into the Persian Gulf by Iraq. Sackur was giving her the opportunity to point to further such dangers. But significantly she by-passed the specific issue and went to the larger matter of which it is a part.

“With respect to the oil and gas and coal extraction that powers our societies, this is relatively new on the planet. There are alternatives. We have made good use of these so-called cheap sources of energy, but they aren’t really cheap when we think of the consequences of global warming that have come about as a result of using those fossil fuels, and that I think is what needs to be on the balance sheet. It isn’t just where we’re going to get our energy [presumably referring to the deep sea drilling], it’s how we’re going to stop this flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that is warming the planet and changing the chemistry of the ocean and everything is at risk ‒ everything.”

Her delivery of “everything” was solemn, and memorable. Earle is another example of how wide and comprehensive the science community is which warns us of the enormous consequences of human-caused global warming and urges us to pull back.

Unfortunately the full Hardtalk programme is not available from the BBC website for viewing from our part of the world, but there’s a short segment here which captures some of the central things Earle enlarged on in the interview.

And trawling through YouTube I discovered her testimony before a select committee oceans hearing in 2009. It’s six minutes long and I’ll embed it here for those who’d like to hear her with prepared material.

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