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What does ocean warming mean for development? Last year saw a heat record for all oceans worldwide. The second hottest year for oceans was 2020, while the third was 2019. The 2021 record tops a stretch of modern record-keeping that goes back to 1955.

According to researchers, Ocean warming is mainly driven by man-made climate change and represents a simple indicator of global warming, writes British The Guardian. The world’s oceans have been set to simmer, and the heat is being cranked up — last year, ocean temperatures were recorded as the highest in history. 

The Guardian says that the human-caused climate crisis primarily drives the heating up of our oceans. The heating of the oceans represents a starkly simple indicator of global heating. While the atmosphere’s temperature is also trending sharply upwards, individual years are less likely to be record-breakers than the warming of the oceans.

Why is it important?

Ocean warming leads to deoxygenation – a reduction in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the ocean – and sea-level rise – resulting from the thermal expansion of seawater and continental ice melting. The rising temperatures, coupled with ocean acidification (the decrease in pH of the ocean due to its uptake of CO2), affect marine species and ecosystems and, consequently, the real benefits humans derive from the sea. [1] 

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) points out that rising temperature matters to marine species, ecosystems and humans [1]. Saltwater fish, seabirds, and mammals face very high risks from increasing temperatures, including high levels of mortalities, loss of breeding grounds, and mass movements as species search for favourable environmental conditions. Ocean warming is a serious risk to food security and people’s livelihoods globally. Fisheries and aquaculture provide 4.3 billion people with animal protein, and it is a source of income for millions of people worldwide. 

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Rising sea levels, erosion and biological processes  

Rising sea levels and erosion will affect low-lying island countries in the Pacific Ocean, destroying housing and infrastructure and forcing people to relocate. The rise in sea surface temperatures is causing more severe hurricanes and bringing droughts and floods. Warming ocean temperatures are linked to the increase and spread of diseases in marine species. 

According to the Australian government (The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority [2]), the water temperature in the ocean will moderate fish body temperature. Warmer oceans can affect critical biological processes of fish, including growth, reproduction, swimming ability and behaviour. Temperature limits can also affect the distribution and abundance of baitfish aggregations. Some species are likely to expand their geographic ranges as the waters warm. Some fish respond well to high sea temperatures, as these temperatures can shorten incubation time, increase growth rates and improve swimming ability in juvenile fish. However, these benefits are limited to relatively minor temperature increases.

Waves of sea erode the road (Adobe Stock)

Ocean warming has Implications for Conservation and Management

Evidence that ocean warming affects population distributions and abundance has implications for conservation and management. Warming responses can be complex, influence individual and whole species assemblages, and be observed over brief periods. 

A report about biological responses to ocean warming reported the following key findings [3]: 

  • Studies of marine biological responses to past environmental changes show an overwhelming pattern of change consistent with warming. Warming-induced trends include poleward shifts in species distributions, advancements in breeding seasons, and an increased abundance of warm water species while cold water species decline. 
  • Although future shifts in species composition appear likely, the implications of warming seas for the UK fish production and the fishing industry are unclear, as the issue has not been researched in complete detail. Warming seas have contributed to long-term declines in cold-water species, for example, Atlantic cod. However, an increase in warm water species, for example, red mullet, could bring new catch potential to UK waters. UK capture fisheries and landings by commercial vessels have been affected by ocean warming. Still, predictive modelling approaches that incorporate climate and fishing as drivers of change are required to predict future changes more accurately in fish stocks and the impact on commercial fisheries. 
  • UK aquaculture is highly dependent on two core species, the Atlantic salmon and blue mussel, which are close to the southern limit of their European range, and Biological Responses to Ocean Warming, therefore vulnerable to warming. There are concerns that warming seas will lead to thermal stress, lower growth, reduced food conversion efficiency, and a higher incidence of economically significant parasites and pathogens. 
  • Species and habitats of high conservation importance within the UK and British Overseas Territories marine reserves are threatened by warming seas. The UK has an international obligation to continue monitoring biodiversity within territorial waters. There are concerns that the present network of Marine Protected Areas may need to be revised if warming seas affect the distribution of threatened biodiversity. 
  • Coral reef habitats in the Indo-Pacific overseas territories are projected to suffer annual warming-induced bleaching events that may lead to substantial economic impact for Indo-Pacific fisheries. 
  • There is a high risk that warming seas will facilitate the invasion of UK waters by invasive species with proven adverse effects on capture fisheries and aquaculture. Predictions of future impacts of warming will need to account for the impact of extreme temperature events on marine organisms and interactions with other stressors, including ocean acidification, fisheries, and invasive species.
  • Recent work has suggested weakening the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, the current that transports warmer water northwards through the Atlantic. However, it is uncertain if this represents multidecadal variability or is part of a long-term trend. Modelling of long-term projections has suggested that global warming may further weaken the Atlantic meridional, overturning circulation over the next century and associated cooling of the North Atlantic waters.

Socio-economic effects

The ocean temperature has significant socio-economic and health effects for many. 

A report about the expected impacts of climate change on the ocean economy [4] highlights that climate change is likely to cause and exacerbate global inequities, reducing resilience and thereby likely worsening outcomes under all climate change scenarios. Furthermore, the report assumes that the ocean economy’s future is expected to change, given climate change drastically, and the nature and magnitude of these changes can be highly variable.

Ocean Temperature may Change the Direction of Development.

We know that ocean warming is caused by human development. Now we can see that ocean warming will affect development and growth in many ways. 

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[1] IUCN (https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/ocean-warming)

[2] The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/our-work/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change/sea-temperature)

[3] Dr Martin J. Genner, Jennifer J. Freer, and Louise A. Rutterford, Biological Responses to Ocean Warming, Government Office for Science – GOV.UK, 2017

[4] : Gaines, S., R. Cabral, C. Free, Y. Golbuu, et al. 2019. The Expected Impacts of Climate Change on the Ocean Economy. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Available online at www.oceanpanel.org/ expected-impacts-climate-change-ocean-economy

Lucubrate Magazine January 2022

The picture on the top of the article: Adobe Stock

One lonely mangrove tree grows in the water near Punta Gorda on the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

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Karl Skaar
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