Caring About Our Oceans Means Caring About Our Emissions

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Written By: Emma Websdale

The earth has an incredible number of animal and plant species –many that have yet to be discovered –which not only contribute to the richness of life on the planet, but also have valuable medicinal and scientific properties. Most people agree that Earth’s biodiversity is important and worth preserving. We want future generations to grow up in as rich and diverse a world as the one we experience now.

2152341128As global warming increases, brushfires become more intense, ice caps shrink, deserts spread, and oceans warm. As we learn more about climate change, we learn more about its effects on the animals who share our planet. All this leads to an increasing number of species threatened with extinction.

Many people are unaware of the main cause of climate change: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those that stem from the ways in which we produce consumable energy. Some changes in our atmosphere and climate, including some greenhouse gas emissions, are natural and unavoidable, but human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are neither. They are affecting the rate at which climate change occurs and are threatening Earth’s biodiversity. If species are unable to adapt to these changes, many will become extinct.

There was time when articles warning about climate change could be dismissed as the writing of zealots or extremists –however,. today, it is not easy to shrug off the scientific consensus and day-to-day proof of global warming. In 2013, a survey of 3146 climate and Earth scientists, people who spend their careers studying the impacts and science of the climate, found that 99% agreed on human-induced climate change.

Human activities release huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The most significant contributor to greenhouse gas pollution is the burning of fossil fuels—oil, coal, and gas—to produce energy.

Blanketing the Earth, greenhouse gases trap the sun’s energy within the atmosphere, causing temperatures on the planet’s surface to rise. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States, the average temperature on Earth has risen by 1.4°F since 1900. If left unrestricted, the build-up of these gases could endanger the health and welfare of humans and animals alike.

One consequence of CO2 build-up in Earth’s atmosphere is the growing quantity being absorbed by the oceans. This happens through direct air-to-sea exchange as the planet attempts to reach equilibrium. Oceans are now absorbing unprecedented levels of CO2, which is causing chemical reactions that make them more acidic (and less alkaline). Once dissolved in the ocean, a carbon atom remains there for approximately 500 years. Results from the latest International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) show that our oceans are more acidic than they have been for at least 300 million years, with consequences much greater than previously estimated.

Acidic water has an impact on the environment of sea creatures and can cause damage to the creatures themselves. Acidic water weakens the calcium carbonate skeletons that form the structure of coral reefs and the shells of many crustaceans. Other climate impacts, including rising levels of water from melting glaciers, are increasing the separation between layers of water (known as stratification), resulting in population losses of the Antarctic Krill—a small crustacean that supports species including penguins, seals, and whales. Increased outflow from glaciers boosts iron fertilization, which reduces phytoplankton availability and fertility over the long term and greatly decreases the Krill’s winter food source, critical during its larval phase.

Climate change is also causing the deterioration of crucial marine habitats through changing weather conditions. Extreme weather events, including the tropical cyclone Yasi and above-average rainfall, have resulted in increases in the accumulation of debris and chemicals in the water. Furthermore, a July 2013 report, states that reef-wide coral cover has declined by 50% since 1985.

The effects of human-induced greenhouse gases on Earth’s oceans don’t stop with the species that inhabit the oceans. People who depend upon the ocean for food and livelihoods are also at risk.

The Marine Climate Change Impact Partnerships 2013 report card, a summary of recent research by 55 science organizations in the United Kingdom, warns that rising temperatures and increased acid levels in the Atlantic Ocean could cause Scotland’s fish, whales, dolphins, and porpoises to relocate. Already the area has experienced a 50% drop in the number of cold-water fish species, including haddock, cod, and whiting. With species migrating north in an attempt to survive the ocean’s changes, scientists suggest that commercial fish catches in Scotland could be reduced by up to 20%.

Human-induced greenhouse gases are also depleting water oxygen levels, a biochemical change likely to affect about 870 million people dependent upon the ocean. The journal Public Library of Science Biology published the results of a study of several marine taxa and 32 marine habitats, in which scientists found that continued increases in ocean temperatures, oxygen depletion, and acidity could significantly reduce ocean productivity.

Although this all sounds daunting, there is hope. Production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is something we can control and change. One of the greatest challenges facing us today is the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.

Many extraordinary companies and organizations have developed innovative technologies and solutions that can enable us to move away from fossil fuels. One recent advance that deserves attention is Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).

Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation recognizes that a sustainable clean-energy future can be found within Earth’s oceans. OTEC plants use the temperature variations between warm surface water and cold deep water to produce renewable energy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, making the technology better than other, intermittent forms of renewable energy. More than 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and the oceans hold extraordinary energy-storage potential. In one 24-hour period, tropical ocean waters absorb solar radiation equivalent to the amount of energy produced by 250 billion barrels of oil..

 

Onshore OTEC PlantWith the help of $260 million (£167 million) in research and development funds, the idea behind OTEC has been transformed into reality. An OTEC system produces clean energy by using warm seawater to heat a working fluid, which vaporizes and powers a generator. The vapor is then condensed back into liquid by cold seawater. This continuous, closed cycle allows the constant production of clean energy that requires no fuel source, giving the technology an advantage over other renewable energy sources.

Just one 10-megawatt OTEC plant has been estimated to provide reliable clean energy for approximately 10,000 people, replacing the burning of 50,000 barrels of oil and preventing the release into the atmosphere of 80,000 tons of CO2 per year. Each OTEC plant has an enormous capacity to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Supporting technologies such as these will shape the world that our children and grandchildren will live in. It really is that simple. By reducing emissions, we can keep the magnificent colors of the oceans and protect their diverse species. Ecological security means ocean productivity security, and that means happiness and freedom to enjoy our oceans forever.

If you care about conserving our oceans and other crucial habitats, support our mission by joining us on Twitter or Facebook, or by learning more about our technologies.