Oceans and Earth’s habitability

On 8 June, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrates World Oceans Day, a fitting occasion to remind ourselves of the essential role of the oceans in making Earth a habitable planet. We have had an official day of celebration for the oceans only since December 2008. In contrast, Earth Day has been celebrated every year since 1970. Conceived by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in the aftermath of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, Earth Day became a focus for the growing environmental movement (it became an international event in 1990) and the catalyst that led to the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts in the United States. Imagine what might be accomplished if World Oceans Day could similarly inspire actions for improving the state of the oceans worldwide.(…)

It is not just excess heat that the oceans absorb. As CO2 is released to the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, about a quarter is absorbed by the ocean, lowering its pH. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, ocean acidity has increased by 30%, with negative repercussions for many organisms, including those that build their shells from calcium carbonate minerals. Such organisms are essential links in marine food webs and the foundation for very profitable fisheries. As the oceans become more saturated with CO2, their ability to mitigate the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere by absorbing it will decrease, and greenhouse warming will accelerate.

McNutt M., 2015. Oceans and Earth’s habitability. Science 348(6237):841. Article.

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