Humankind’s greatest ally in slowing down climate change is the Earth’s oceans. But if they continue to warm up — and scientists say this is due to human activities — then the battle to contain climate change and the warming of our planet will surely be lost, leaving us all to face an uncertain future.
As we all welcomed the spring season full of hope and the regeneration of nature, new data pointed to fresh records being broken, with “unprecedented” water temperature highs recorded last month. Scientists stated that the Earth had reached “uncharted territory” in the ongoing battle to contain the intensification of climate change that we have witnessed over the past three or four decades.
While trying to prepare a table of the conflicts plaguing our planet for a piece I wanted to write in the future, I randomly looked at this crisis, which requires the immediate and urgent attention of the international community (which looks more polarized than ever). The rising temperature of the oceans keeps on ranking higher in my amateurish table of existential threats to the survival of humanity.
Is it to the war in Ukraine and its catastrophic potential descent into a worldwide nuclear confrontation that our attention should be turned? Or should it be the new but escalating fighting in Sudan, its potential impact on volatile African nations and its likely metamorphosing into yet another population displacement? Dozens of other hotspots and issues should keep most of us awake at night, from the cost-of-living crisis to food security, failed crops, lower rainfall and the droughts felt even at the beginning of spring in countries like Portugal and Spain, which last month experienced record temperatures.
The rapid acceleration in the rise in ocean temperatures is being seen as an anomaly scientists are unable to explain
However, the rapid acceleration in the rise in ocean temperatures over the last 40 days is being seen as an anomaly scientists are unable to explain. Data collated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, known as the Optimum Interpolation Sea Surface temperature series, has shown ocean temperatures higher than in any previous year stretching back to 1981. This heating of the oceans has preceded the yet-to-develop El Nino, a cyclical weather system in the Pacific that has warming effects globally. Prof. Mike Meredith, science leader of the British Antarctic Survey, told the Guardian: “This has got the scientists scratching their heads. The fact that it is warming as much as it has been is a real surprise and very concerning.”
Warmer oceans, we are told by scientists, result in seawater taking up more space, hence accelerating sea level rises. Warmer seawater also accelerates the melting of the ice caps. And it is known that hotter than usual oceans damage the marine ecosystem, rendering it more difficult for species to adapt. Many scientists also believe that unexpected warming at this rate might be a sign that the climate crisis is moving at a faster rate than previously thought.
It is common knowledge that oceans have long acted as a buffer to prevent rapid climate change by absorbing vast amounts of the carbon dioxide that we have emitted into the atmosphere. They store 90 percent of the excess energy and warming these emissions have created, tempering some of the excess heat on land.
Maybe the oceans are reaching their limit in terms of the amount of excess heat they can absorb
So, the recent rapid rise in ocean temperatures is a cause for concern for scientists, as maybe the oceans are reaching their limit in terms of the amount of excess heat they can absorb. This has led them to wonder if this is just a random peak or the start of something much more serious.
What I think is most alarming is the uncertainty of the scientists on the one hand, which is a first in a crisis that has been monitored and studied more intensely than ever in the past few decades. On the other hand, it is a cause for concern to see that there is still a large percentage of people on this planet, from all walks of life, who are bent on denying that a great part of the Earth’s suffering is due to humanity’s excesses.
This latest data points to the scale of the problems ahead. If nation states do not put aside their differences or if simple human greed overpowers the rush to work together and slow down, if not to stop, the fast descent of our planet into uncharted waters then the future of our health, our food security and even the air we breathe is at risk.