Why do oceans matter for climate change?

Oceans are the planet’s greatest carbon sink, absorbing up to 30 per cent of the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions fuelling the climate crisis. Photo of Deepwater Horizon fire / US Coast Guard / Wikipedia

As the climate crisis gets worse, oceans — the planet’s greatest carbon sink — can no longer be overlooked.

Spanning 70 per cent of the globe, oceans have absorbed nearly a third of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans and 90 per cent of the excess heat those gases create.

The heat stored in the Earth’s entire atmosphere is equal to what’s stored in the top few metres of our oceans. If that wasn’t enough, oceans produce more than 50 per cent of the planet’s oxygen and regulate our climate and weather patterns.

Oceans clearly do some heavy lifting but get little attention on the world stage.

In Canada, home of the world’s longest coastline, we can’t meet our climate and biodiversity goals without paying greater attention to the threats oceans face and the solutions they can provide. Especially as the feds doubled down on their pledge to protect 30 per cent of Canada’s waters and lands by 2030 at last month’s COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal.

As part of a new Canada’s National Observer series breaking down climate basics, we’re diving into some common questions about how and why oceans matter to climate change.

What is ocean acidification?

Greater amounts of CO2 in the ocean reduce the water’s pH levels, making it more acidic, along with its levels of calcium carbonate — a key building block for many creatures’ shells or skeletons, such as crabs, shellfish, prawns, corals, sea urchins and tiny marine snails, called pteropods, which fish like salmon depend on for food. Some of the initial red flags around ocean acidification surfaced in Washington state and Oregon a decade ago when shellfish hatcheries suffered massive die-offs of baby oysters.

Rochelle Baker, National Observer, 11 January 2023. Full article.

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