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Global Warming / Climate Change

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Implications for the Ocean

Recently, a sign of climate change was seen in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence. There was not enough ice to provide necessary habitat for thousands of baby harp seals, and nearly 100% of all pups born this year drowned. In Tasmania over the past 50 years, 20-80% of the east coast kelp forests have disappeared as they're surrounded by warmer, nutrient-poor waters. Scientists recently predicted that Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the only biological structure that can be seen by the naked eye from space, will be virtually dead within 30 years. As mentioned earlier, Arctic polar bears are facing extinction due to dramatic reductions of Arctic ice, a problem that will also threaten all Arctic wildlife. These terrible events, as they say, are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Bigger, more terrifying events are taking place. For example, corals are already under serious threat right now due to “bleaching” due to the seas growing warmer. A coral is a living animal, 80% of its energy is generated by photosynthesis via tiny algae within its body known as zoozanthellae. If environmental conditions change, the coral's defense is to expel the algae, which results in death of the coral. But this is not the only "hot water" corals face.

harp seal pup, Pagophilus groenlandicusGlobal warming may also impact ocean life and life on earth by altering the ocean's circulatory patterns and the flow of surface currents and local areas of upwelling and downwelling, which can affect nutrient and oxygen delivery over large areas. As Arctic ice melts, it dilutes the deep nutrient-rich ocean currents that move throughout the Atlantic and reduces their ability to sink, a process necessary for the normal circular path of these deep currents which transfers 85% of the world's heat around the world. If melting continues at an alarming rate, the Atlantic Ocean's ability to maintain the weather as we know it might collapse. Giant storms, breeding in unstable conditions, could grow in intensity and numbers as they pummel the coastlines of Northern Europe and North America.

Scripps Researchers Find Clear Evidence of Human-Produced Warming in World's Oceans - Climate warming likely to impact water resources in regions around the globe

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and their colleagues have produced the first clear evidence of human-produced warming in the world's oceans, a finding they say removes much of the uncertainty associated with global warming.

FRONTLINE: hot politics: watch the full program online | PBS

Human Impact on Climate Change

Watch An Inconvenient TruthWhether or not the planet is warming at accelerated rates, likely caused by human activity, is no longer a topic of debate. The data can no longer be disputed.

The terms "global warming" and "climate change" are used interchangeably. However, "global warming" implies the warming of our planet due to a direct human influence while "climate change" is more accurately used to describe changes in climate due to natural fluctuations, such as the processes that produced the Ice Ages.

The scientific evidence in support of global warming continues to mount and the media is increasingly highlighting the topic to inform us of the very real dangers involved in global warming. Common media images include polar bears that are no longer able to find enough ice to survive and often drown in search of food. Glaciers in the Arctic and Greenland are breaking apart at unprecedented speed, causing sea levels to rise. The ocean's temperature is rising; as a result, we are witnessing marine species forced to migrate from habitats they have lived in for at least thousands of years in search of more hospitable areas.

Recently, some island nations and communities have actually begun evacuation procedures as rising seas flood their homes and land. Rising sea levels caused by the expansion of sea water as it warms and the melting of glaciers has caused a one mm increase in sea level, which translates to a shoreline retreat of about 1.5 m. This has been seen in the U.S. along the Atlantic Coast where erosion has narrowed beaches and washed out houses. In other countries, such as the Tuvalu Islands in the Pacific, communities are planning their moves as their homelands are slowly submerged. Other currently threatened nations include the Cook and the Marshall Islands, where one island (Majuro) has lost up to 20% of its beachfront already.

Electronic Microfossil Image Database System (EMIDAS)Scientists have recently discovered that the basic chemistry of the ocean is being altered by excess carbon dioxide absorption, which threatens marine organisms by increasing acidification. Acidification is caused by a reaction between CO2 and H2O, which forms carbonic acid (H2CO3). Carbonic acid increases the acidity of ocean waters by lowering the pH which inhibits the reaction organisms (e.g., coccolithophores - one of the most abundant phytoplankton in the ocean, corals, foraminifera, echinoderms, crustaceans, and some mollusks, especially pteropods) use to secrete skeletal structures and shells made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). With increasing acidity, every marine species that constructs skeletons and shells of CaCO3 will find it more difficult to survive in the future. The impact of such a widespread decline in shell-producing marine organisms could be disastrous for nearly all ocean ecosystems. Increasing acidity will also undoubtedly affect numerous reproductive and/or physiological processes in other marine species with unknown consequences.

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