Global warm­ing shock hits

Sunday Tribune - - METRO - Wash­ing­ton Post See Page 19

STAR­TLING new re­search finds a ma­jor build-up of heat in the oceans, sug­gest­ing global warm­ing is hap­pen­ing at a faster rate than an­tic­i­pated.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished this week, over the past quar­ter-cen­tury, Earth’s oceans have re­tained 60% more heat each year than sci­en­tists pre­vi­ously thought, said Laure Re­s­p­landy, a geo­sci­en­tist at Prince­ton Univer­sity, in the US, who led the study pub­lished in the jour­nal, Na­ture.

This means the world might have less time to curb car­bon emis­sions. The dif­fer­ence rep­re­sents an enor­mous amount of ad­di­tional en­ergy orig­i­nat­ing from the sun and trapped by Earth’s at­mos­phere – the yearly amount rep­re­sent­ing more than eight times the world’s annual en­ergy con­sump­tion.

Re­s­p­landy, who pub­lished the work with ex­perts from the Scripps In­sti­tu­tion of Oceanog­ra­phy, said: “It was hid­den from us be­cause we didn’t sam­ple it right. But it was in the ocean al­ready.”

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TO STAND at the edge of an ocean is to face an eter­nity of waves and wa­ter, a shroud cov­er­ing seven-tenths of the Earth.

Hid­den below are moun­tain ranges and canyons that ri­val any­thing on land. There you will find the Earth’s largest habi­tat, home to bil­lions of plants and an­i­mals – the vast ma­jor­ity of the liv­ing things on the planet.

In this lit­tle-seen world, swirling su­per-high­way cur­rents move warm wa­ter thou­sands of miles north and south from the trop­ics to cooler lat­i­tudes, while cold wa­ter pumps from the poles to warmer climes.

It is a sys­tem that we take for granted as much as we do the cir­cu­la­tion of our own blood. It sub­stan­tially reg­u­lates the Earth’s tem­per­a­ture, and it has been mit­i­gat­ing the re­cent spike in at­mo­spheric tem­per­a­tures, soak­ing up much of hu­man-gen­er­ated heat and car­bon diox­ide.

With­out these ocean gyres to mod­er­ate tem­per­a­tures, the Earth would be un­in­hab­it­able.

In the past few decades, how­ever, the oceans have un­der­gone un­prece­dented warm­ing. Cur­rents have shifted. These changes are for the most part in­vis­i­ble from land, but this hid­den im­pact on marine life – in ef­fect, cre­at­ing an epic un­der­wa­ter refugee cri­sis.

Reuters has dis­cov­ered that from the wa­ters off the East Coast of the US to the coasts of west Africa, marine crea­tures are flee­ing for their lives, and the com­mu­ni­ties that de­pend on them are fac­ing dis­rup­tion as a re­sult.

As wa­ters warm, fish and other sea life are mi­grat­ing pole­ward, seek­ing to main­tain the even tem­per­a­tures they need to thrive and breed. The num­ber of crea­tures in­volved in this mas­sive di­as­pora may well dwarf any cli­mate im­pacts yet seen on land.

In the US North At­lantic, for ex­am­ple, fish­eries data show that in re­cent years, at least 85% of the nearly 70 fed­er­ally tracked species have shifted north or deeper, or both, when com­pared with the norm over the past half-cen­tury. And the most dra­matic of species shifts have oc­curred in the last 10 or 15 years.

Fish have al­ways fol­lowed chang­ing con­di­tions, some­times with dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects for peo­ple, as the star­va­tion that be­set Nor­we­gian fish­ing vil­lages in past cen­turies when the her­ring failed to ap­pear one sea­son will at­test.

But what is hap­pen­ing to­day is dif­fer­ent: the ac­cel­er­at­ing rise in sea tem­per­a­tures, which sci­en­tists pri­mar­ily at­tribute to the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els, is caus­ing a last­ing shift in fish­eries.

The changes below the sur­face are not an aca­demic mat­ter. Glob­ally, fish­ing is a $140 bil­lion to $150bn busi­ness an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion, and in some parts of the world, seafood ac­counts for half of the av­er­age per­son’s diet. But the ef­fects of this mass mi­gra­tion in the world’s oceans are also much more in­ti­mate than that.

From lob­ster­men in Maine to fish­er­men in North Carolina, liveli­hoods are at stake. For sar­dine-eat­ing Por­tuguese and seafood-lov­ing Ja­panese, cul­tural her­itages are at risk.

And a bur­geon­ing aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try, fu­elled in part by the ef­fects of cli­mate change, is dec­i­mat­ing tra­di­tional fish­ing in west Africa and de­stroy­ing coastal man­grove swamps in south-east Asia.

This is part of ‘Ocean Shock’, a Reuters se­ries ex­plor­ing cli­mate change’s im­pact on sea crea­tures and the peo­ple who de­pend on them cli­mate change has had a dis­turb­ing MAU­RICE TAMMAN AND MATTHEW GREEN

Pe­dro Nunes Reuters

FISH­ER­MEN at work in the port of Matosin­hos, Por­tu­gal. In the past few decades the oceans have un­der­gone un­prece­dented warm­ing, af­fect­ing liveli­hoods. |

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