Oceans: going deep into their past to understand their future

The history of the oceans covers most of the history of Earth, and even more importantly oceans represent the system from which life originated. Eelco Rohling’s new book is a fantastic attempt to impart the knowledge of the oceans to a wide audience. Using erudite yet comprehensible language, the author reports and critically discusses the main events that shaped the story of our planet across time. He believes that the actual knowledge of the oceans is limited to a small group of scientists and that we need to do more to explain the oceans’ mysteries. The palaeoceanographic background of the author helps the reader to learn crucial information on the seas and their history in a simple and convincing manner. This book explains the history of the oceans, from their formation, and helps us to understand their natural evolution and to discriminate natural versus anthropogenic alterations. Approximately 500 years ago, the oceans were still almost completely pristine, but in the 19th century the oceans started to be seriously impacted by the activities of the growing human population, which had reached 1 billion. The anthropogenic impact is multifaceted and profound, and it includes overfishing, pollution, eutrophication, acidification and warming. In the last century, the development of new technologies has enabled marine research to improve our understanding of the effects of such changes. This book provides clear evidence of the role of the oceans in mitigating ongoing global change. The seas and oceans of the world have already absorbed more than a third of the CO 2 that has been produced as a result of human activities. Yet the CO 2 increase is causing a progressive acidification of the oceans, with crucial consequences for marine life. The oceans have also absorbed more than 90% of the heat associated with global warming. The history of the Earth helps us to understand the causes and consequences of such changes.

Danovaro R., 2018. Oceans: going deep into their past to understand their future. Current Biology 28 (15): R806-R807. Book review (subscription required).

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