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Understanding Sustainability: Why is the Ocean so Hot?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

The increase in ocean temperatures observed in many places around the world can be attributed to several specific factors that can be primarily attributed to human behaviors. But this does not mean that humans can't live in a world that is managed better and more effectively for others. It's almost as if the Earth is the world's largest theme park that needs operations management. More things are broken than engineers to fix, but we must still prioritize what needs fixing and what can wait.

The following are some key factors contributing to the rise in ocean temperatures:

  1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, big agriculture and livestock, and various industrial processes release greenhouse gases (such as carbon and sulfur in the form of emissions, or methane from cows) into the atmosphere. As a result of the chemical bonds that compose these molecules, heat can be absorbed and held by these substances for longer than others. Over time this results in a rise in local, regional, and eventually global temperatures, including ocean temperatures.

  2. Increased Solar Radiation: The thinning of the ozone layer due to human activities and the release of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), aerosols, and other hazardous substances can lead to increased penetration of solar radiation into the Earth's atmosphere. This extra heat stays within the earth's atmosphere and contributes to the warming of the oceans through increased solar intensity.

  3. Urban Heat Island Effect: Urban, paved, or otherwise developed areas can cause a significant increase in the temperatures regionally. As asphalt replaces foliage, and concrete replaces soil, the ability of the ground to absorb heat and hold it locally diminishes. Instead, these industrial substances often reflect heat up into the low atmosphere where it stays trapped in an atmospheric "thermocline" layer. As the concentration of developed land is also correlated with the emissions of people and additional greenhouse gases being released, this effect is compounded.

As the human population continues to grow faster than we can keep up, there must be steps taken to address potential ocean eutrophication, which is the process of decay and the loss of oxygen in the water. When fertilizers, grease, oils, fats, and other substances enter the water from runoff, algae blooms lead to a drop in oxygen in the water, and a loss of sunlight, but an increase in heat absorption due to the algae. This process can accelerate and cause the death and subsequent decomposition of marine life, further speeding up the process.

In significant cases of eutrophication, ecosystems effectively reset, and life larger than small fish does not survive long. To address ocean habitability for corals, animals, and other marine life, several actions can be taken:

  1. Mitigating Climate Change: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is crucial to limit further warming of the oceans. This can be achieved through transitioning to renewable energy sources, promoting energy efficiency, adopting sustainable land-use practices, and implementing international agreements like the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  2. Protecting and Restoring Ecosystems: Conservation and restoration of coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt marshes, can help mitigate the impacts of rising ocean temperatures. These habitats serve as nurseries, and filters for the Interface between land and sea. These super dense, ecologically diverse, and often coastal regions provide essential resources for marine life.

  3. Sustainable Fisheries Management: Implementing sustainable fishing practices, including setting catch limits, reducing bycatch, and establishing marine protected areas, helps maintain the health and resilience of marine ecosystems.

  4. Reducing Pollution and Plastic Waste: Reducing pollution from land-based sources, particularly nutrient runoff and plastic waste, can help prevent additional stress on marine life and coral reefs.

  5. Enhancing Resilience: Research and initiatives focused on enhancing the resilience of corals and other vulnerable marine species through selective breeding, assisted evolution, and habitat restoration can assist in adapting to changing ocean conditions.

  6. International Cooperation: Collaboration among nations is essential to address ocean temperature rise comprehensively. Sharing scientific knowledge, implementing sustainable practices, and establishing protected areas across international waters can help protect marine habitats and promote biodiversity.

It's crucial to recognize that addressing ocean temperature increases requires a multi-faceted approach involving individuals, communities, governments, and international organizations working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect marine ecosystems. If we can accomplish feats of engineering that span continents, we can certainly accomplish this for the good of our world.

Thanks for reading!

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