In the past 25 years, the oceans have absorbed heat equivalent to the energy of 3.6 billion Hiroshima-size atom bomb explosion. When the scientists compared ocean temperature data from the last three decades (1987-2019) to the three decades before that (1955-1986), they found the rate of warming had increased 450 percent, "reflecting a major increase in the rate of global climate change.” Water takes much more energy to heat up than air, that translates to a temperature increase.
But why are oceans so important?
The surface of the ocean is warming up about 24 percent faster than it did a few decades ago, and that rate is likely to increase in the future. A recent international study revealed that “by the end of the century, assuming we have a high-emissions future, there is not only much greater surface warming, but also this warmth will penetrate deeper,” Mr. Brito-Morales said.
As animals living in the deep ocean are more exposed to climate warming they will face increasing challenges to maintain their preferred thermal habitats in the future. Because these creatures are adapted to stable thermal environments, the rapid acceleration of temperature will likely put deep sea biodiversity at risk.
In addition to the consequences that can be felt within the deep sea, rising ocean heat has accelerated the rate of sea level rise.
Sea Level Rise
Across the 20th century, sea level rise was caused mainly by melting glaciers and the expansion of ocean water as it warms. But over the last two decades the main driver has become the melting of Earth's two ice sheets.
Earth’s great ice sheets, Greenland and Antarctica, are now losing mass six times faster than they were in the 1990s due to warming conditions. A new study by NASA shows that Antarctica and Greenland's ice sheets lost 118 gigatons and 200 gigatons of ice on average per year. That would fill more than 127 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. The amount of ice lost could cover New York's Central Park in ice more than 305 meters thick, reaching higher than the Chrysler Building.
“Today, the ice sheets contribute about a third of all sea-level rise, whereas in the 1990s, their contribution was actually pretty small at about 5 per cent. This has important implications for the future, for coastal flooding and erosion,” says Professor Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds.
About ten percent, or 870 million people, depend on the ocean as a sustainable source of nourishment, and roughly 40% of the world population lives with 100km of a coast. These changes in ocean conditions would cause forced displacement of these people and “would put 400 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2100,” Professor Shepherd told the BBC.
New scientific research has proved that previous estimates of sea level rise were far too optimistic. Scientists have developed a more accurate way of measuring this sea level rise and have shown that globally, 150 million people are now living on land will be at risk for extreme flooding. Based on the new calculations this is what Shanghai would look in 2050.
Source: New York Times
Within Asia, countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Thailand, and Myanmar are extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. High risk cities in China include Guangzhou, Shanghai and Dongguan.
Ocean Conservation in China
Ocean warming and sea level rise only touch the mere surface of the widespread effects that global warming has had on our blue planet. Plastic pollution, overfishing, oil drilling, chemical spills and habitat destruction are on the rise and affecting many parts of the ocean. China has been a vocal supporter of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, specifically #14 which is focused on ocean conservation. This support is perhaps most tangible in China’s current five-year plan, one of the nation’s most important policy instruments. The plan outlines that 70% of coastal waters should be of Class I or II quality by 2020, compared to 50% in 2004. It contains a coastline conservation goal, that coast not damaged by land reclamation or construction should account for at least 35% of the total coastline. Furthermore, redlines have been proposed among several coastal zones. These redlines will divide coastal waters into zones where development is banned, and those where it is permitted with restriction.
On 16 July 2018, the European Union signed a unique ocean partnership agreement with China. The partnership also contains clear commitments to tackle climate change in accordance with the Paris Agreement and implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Two of the world’s largest ocean economies will work together to improve the international governance of the oceans in aspects including, combating illegal fishing, fighting against marine plastic litter and microplastic, and conserving Antarctic marine living resources.
While our government has made to policies and commitments to ocean protection, it is our duty to step up and take individualized actions as well as influence others to advance our environmental efforts. Some actions you can take without traveling from your home include:
Focus on your plastic use
Although the recent waste management regulation in China has brought an uptick in recycling, it is best not to use plastic at all. Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans. Around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces may be floating in the open ocean right now. Take a reusable cup to a coffee shop, a reusable shopping bag, don’t use products containing microbeads and say no to plastic straws are a few things you can do.
Reduce energy use
Reducing energy is not only good for the environment but also good for your wallet! Increased energy use means increased carbon emissions so turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Unplug chargers and appliances when possible. And reduce your AC and heat use. These steps can all help reduce the increased rate of ocean warming.
Consume sustainable seafood
China as a country consumes more seafood than the next 10 countries combined. As consumers we have the responsibility to make conscious decisions that can help the environment. Avoiding consumption of endangered species such as shark fin soup, sea cucumbers, whales, etc. is one way to reduce our impact on our oceans. Eat more plant-based meals if you can. However, if you do continue consuming seafood, make sure to buy from local markets which can ensure that the produce you are buying has not traveled far distances. This would reduce your carbon footprint.
Sustainable ocean vacation
Tourism accounts for 5% of our global emissions so as you prepare for your next oceanside getaway, consider implementing some small changes to have a more sustainable, environmentally friendly trip! When planning, scope out an eco-friendly hotels that implements sustainable measures to reduce their carbon footprint. When using sunscreen, make sure to buy reef-safe sunscreen, as the chemicals present in many standard sunscreen brands leach toxins into the water which can bleach and kill corals. When engaging in water-based activities, be mindful of the wildlife and coral within the sea as well as clean up after yourself along the beach to decrease pollution.
Support blue organizations
Many organizations and institutions around the world are fighting to protect our ocean and marine biodiversity. There are a number of national and regional organizations within China that are focused on advocating for healthy oceans through consumer awareness, beach cleanups, scientific research, pollution monitoring and much more. Donating, volunteering, or attending trainings or forums can provide conservation support for our oceans.
Some Marine NGOs/Companies in China
1. SHANGHAI RENDU OCEAN NPO DEVELOPMENT CENTER:
- Some of Rendu's main projects include beach cleanups, marine litter monitoring, marine education and network building.
- In 2016 Rendu and its partners won an award for protection of water environments for its work on the China Coastal Litter Cleanup and Monitoring Project, with experts praising the technical level of its work on marine litter.
2. CHINA BLUE SUSTAINABILITY INSTITUTE:
- A nonprofit focused on sustainable fishing and responsible aquaculture
- They have developed iFish, a marine product sustainability database used by customers including Disney and Chinese retail chains
- Work to encourage fishermen and businesses to explore and implement environmentally-friendly models of development
3. SHENZHEN BLUE OCEAN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ASSOCIATION:
- Blue Ocean is one of very few Chinese organizations able to carry out seabed cleanups and monitoring thanks to its background in the diving community and cooperation with diving groups.
- They are focused on marine litter, conservation, environmental education
4. SHANGHAI NARWAL OCEAN RESEARCH CENTER
- Founded in 2017, their work revolves mainly around research and education on plastic pollutions, specifically microplastics within the ocean.
- Have given talks at 100+ universities around China and organinzed beach cleanups.
5. GUANGDONG WETLAND CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION: http://www.gdwetland.org/
- GWCA is a local nonprofit focused on education about Guangdong’s coastal wetlands.
- They work in partnership with the educational authorities, and facilitates the inclusion of environmental knowledge in textbooks to be used in the classroom and uses extracurricular activities to reach middle and elementary schools.
6. IN SHARKS WE TRUST: https://www.insharkswetrust.com/2019
- A swimwear company founded by Miao Wang which uses reclaimed fishnets to design premium swimwear
- All profits are 100% dedicated to shark conservation
- Customers can order from online and the store ships internationally
World Oceans Day
World Oceans Day, celebrated every year on June 8 was originally suggested as an international day of celebration and awareness in 1992 by the government of Canada. By 2008, the United Nations had officially recognized it. Since then, people around the world celebrate the day by focusing attention on awareness and recognition of the importance of taking care of our oceans.
The theme of UN World Oceans Day 2020 is “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean.” Innovation—relating to the introduction of new methods, ideas, or products—is a dynamic term, and one that is fundamentally filled with hope.
This year's theme is especially relevant in the lead-up to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which will run from 2021 to 2030. The Decade will strengthen international cooperation to develop the scientific research and innovative technologies that can connect ocean science with the needs of society.
For more information, or to find an event, visit: www.WorldOceansDay.org.
Chasing Ice Film
As climate awareness becomes increasingly important, Green Initiatives will be hosting a film screening of Chasing Ice on June 16. This documentary is shot by National Geographic environmental photographer James Balog. His task? To capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate.
Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.
Chasing Ice is a story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. A film comprising of breathtaking photography and visuals, Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet.