by Carly Ealey
Napier, NZ – March 2016
The oceans are our life-support system, providing 70% of the oxygen we breathe. However, we are changing the chemistry of the ocean and with it its ability to sustain life. The oceans act as a buffer and absorb nearly a third of all carbon emissions and 90% of the heat caused by greenhouse gases. When CO2 is absorbed, it reacts with water to form carbonic acid, which is detrimental to species such as corals and shellfish that can no longer build their exoskeletons.
Jellyfish survive unharmed in CO2 rich environments and compete with fish and other predators for food—mainly smaller zooplankton—and they also eat young fish themselves. If jellyfish thrive under warm and more acidic conditions while most other organisms suffer, it’s possible that jellies will dominate some ecosystems (a problem already seen in parts of the ocean).
Warming water temperatures are also causing coral bleaching. Corals only thrive at temperatures within a narrow margin, and small changes can lead to the death of a coral reef and the demise of entire ecosystems. Another consequence of climate change are rising sea levels, affecting low-lying areas of the world including metropolises like NYC, Miami, and London. Island nations across the globe are forced to relocate their citizens to higher grounds or neighboring countries. Scientists are now estimating that sea level rise will produce 200 Million climate refugees by 2050.