Current weather a “window into the future”, consequences of warming oceans

Intro

As Yemen braces for a second storm in the wake of unprecedented Tropical Cyclone Chapala, which brought seven years worth of rain to the war-torn Middle Eastern nation in just two days, weather anomalies related to the ocean continue to grab headlines worldwide. An El Niño system along the Equator, and an unusually persistent zone of warm water off the North American coast, called “the Blob,” and a longer-term cycle of heating and cooling known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation which, “may be switching from a cooling phase to a warming phase,” are all taking place simultaneously and underscoring the impacts climate change is having on the world’s oceans. A leading scientist with NOAA called these simultaneous occurrences as “wake up call” to get serious about tackling climate change. Beyond scientists and meteorologists, the calls for taking climate action are being voiced by a chorus of leaders including national security leaders, parent organizations, private sector innovators and social justice leaders, all of which see the impacts of increased and more powerful extreme weather events through the lenses of threats to security, economic stability, and families.

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Key Points

  • A warmer ocean threatens security, food supply, human health, critical species, and low-lying countries and coastal communities. For decades, the ocean has been absorbing carbon dioxide that we’ve put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and extra heat. While the added carbon dioxide changes the chemistry of the water, making it more acidic and threatening species’ survival, the rise in temperature comes with its own set of problems. Warmer oceans fuel extreme weather as well as lead to harmful algal blooms and increased toxin levels that threaten human health, changes in migratory patterns, coral bleaching events, and sea level rise which can lead to flooding, increased coastal erosion and displaced persons.  
  • The climate fueled extreme weather events occurring around the world are a preview of a warmer world if climate change is not tackled. Climate change and the associated warmer ocean temperatures make extreme weather worse. The ocean is warmer now than it has been in the last 50 years. 2015 is set to be the hottest year ever recorded. Experts say the chances of ‘freak’ floods and heatwaves are higher than ever before. Each extreme weather event has a massive toll on people and their communities, and the poorest are often amongst the worst hit.
  • The impacts of failing to tackle climate change threaten security and economic stability around the globe. National security leaders continue to warn about the indirect impacts climate change has on stability though crop disruptions food supply disruptions, as well as the direct threats it poses to assets like military bases. Businesses continue to call for climate action to transition the world’s economy away from volatile fossil fuels while simultaneously insulating economies from the costly damage of storms like Hurricane Sandy and Katrina.

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Key Quotes

  • “With climate change we’re really heading into unknown territory. We can expect to see things happening in the future that never happened in the past.” Clare Nullis, spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)
  • Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia….It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here’s a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany.” George Monbiot
  • “It’s really worrisome. If this is a single event that then goes away and we can forget about it down the road, it’s O.K. If it’s a window into the future, it’s not a good future.” – Dr. Vera L. Trainer, the manager of the marine biotoxin program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center
  • “The coral bleaching and disease, brought on by climate change and coupled with events like the current El Niño, are the largest and most pervasive threats to coral reefs around the world. As a result, we are losing huge areas of coral across the U.S., as well as internationally. What really has us concerned is this event has been going on for more than a year and our preliminary model projections indicate it’s likely to last well into 2016.” Mark Eakin, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator
  • “Building resilience is not a choice or luxury for us, but a compulsion. Investing in disaster risk reduction is of course proven effective. It’s a critical area, but at the same time it’s neglected.” –  Shamshad Akhtar, head of the U.N. regional development arm for Asia Pacific, said at the launch of the report in Bangkok.
  • “Hurricane Patricia, and her unprecedented 200 mile-per-hour sustained winds, appears to be one of [the consequences of warmer oceans due to climate change] now, unfortunately.” –  Michael Mann, climate researcher at Penn State University

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