Updated: Aug 25, 2019
In a recent article produced by the journal Science, it was noted that oceans, at present, are heating up 40 percent faster than previously thought. Whilst asserting that these rising ocean temperatures have broken records for several consecutive years, the study concluded that these findings had dire implications for climate change.
The ocean has been a crucial barrier in slowing down the effect of global warming (absorbing nearly as much 93% of the GHG produced heat); but, our water bodies too, are now subject to the cumulative effect of prolonged global warming. In particular, there has been a marked depletion of marine ecosystems, rise in sea levels and an increased severity of hurricanes. Of particular importance, is the effect these rising temperatures have on the coral reef population. Hundreds of millions of people depend on species of fish whose shelter depends upon coral reefs. With a fifth of corals having died in the past three years, those coastal countries/cities with a formerly vibrant marine economy and a high dependence of fish as a protein source, have been hit hard. With the declining ability of the ocean to produce fish, those countries are quickly approaching food insecurity.
When water bodies heat up, sea levels rise as warmer water begins to take up more space than cold water. Most of today’s rise in sea level is actually because of the warming effect as opposed to melting ice caps. It is predicted that in the absence of a cohesive global climate action plan, ocean warming alone would rise seal levels by 2100. This could particularly exacerbate the damages caused by coastal flooding and storm surges. Further, there have been other unforeseen repercussions as a result of this warming – as oceans have heated up, it has driven fish populations in new places of habitation which has driven conflict between countries, turning into trade wars and a breakdown of international relations in some cases.
Consider the case of Europe’s “mackerel wars”. In the early part of the 21st century, mackerel fishing was primarily driven by the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands. However, as a result of warming ocean temperatures, in a short few years, Iceland (a non-EU member), went from housing no mackerel in its neighboring waters to netting more than 150,000 tons of the fish. As a result, the EU attempted to make a deal with Iceland to share catches of mackerel – thereby infuriating Norway. Whilst the Faroe Islands, angry and fearful of Iceland’s fishing, entirely withdrew from sustainable fishing agreements with the EU and Norway and began self-imposing its own harvest limits. In response, officials from Scotland noted that the move was “selfish” and accused the Island of acting like “their Viking ancestors”. The EU retaliated with a trade embargo on Scotland whilst mackerel fishing skyrocketed to rates that were considered beyond sustainable.
Indeed, it is reasonable to imagine that in the face of rising ocean temperatures we could note an increase in international tensions of the aforementioned nature. Encompassing nearly 71% of the Earth, these rising temperatures could have spillover effects far beyond our imagination.