Wow! This seems bad!
A study in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences published Wednesday and tracked by CNN found 2018 was the hottest year on record for the planet's oceans. We started keeping track in 1958. Want to know what the previous hottest year was? 2017. How about the top five hottest years on record for the oceans? All have occurred since 2014. It's almost like there's something happening here!
There is something happening, of course. The gasses released when humans burn fossil fuels are trapping more and more heat before it can pass through the atmosphere, and a huge share of that heat-as much as 90 percent-is then stored in the oceans. This makes ocean temperatures both the best and most terrifying metric by which to monitor the pace at which human activity is throwing the planet into a state of critical imbalance. The same scientists who produced this study found, in a separate one last week, that the oceans are warming far faster than previously thought.
Here's a fun little graph of what that looks like.
Warming oceans lead to sea level rise, as it more swiftly melts adjacent ice. In the true nightmare scenario, scientists believe this has the makings of a feedback loop: as ice melts, it leaves more surface area to be occupied by water. This water stores more heat, accelerating the rate at which oceans warm and, in turn, accelerating the rate at which ice melts. Just something to look forward to.
Warming oceans also lead to more ferocious storms, like this year's Hurricane Florence in the Western Hemisphere or Super Typhoon Mangkhut in the East. Warmer water leads to stronger storm winds, which could be part of why Mangkhut was tearing the faces off skyscrapers in Hong Kong, perhaps the world's most advanced city. It also leads to huge amounts of rainfall like we saw in the Carolinas with Florence, or in the Houston area with Hurricane Harvey the year before. Hurricanes can now linger over coastal areas, drowning them in rainfall and yielding flood disasters.
And then there are the consequences for the seas themselves. Warmer water can lead to coral bleaching, essentially the destruction of the coral reefs which form the backbone of ocean ecosystems. Bleaching does not immediately kill coral, but it can over time. This is one factor in why, even back in 2015, scientists feared humans could be precipitating a mass extinction event in the world's oceans. 3 billion humans depend on seafood to eat. This is just part of what scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction event. One scientist returned to a rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years to find 98 percent of the ground insects had vanished. It could be the first sign of the ecosystem's collapse.
These are just some dimensions of the catastrophe of a new world awaiting us if we continue on our current path. The climate is changing, and we will not like what it looks like soon enough. Massive wildfires, drastic drought, powerful storms, coastal flooding, and mass migration due to all of these-along with food and water scarcity-are not futures to look forward to. Neither are the wars that will inevitably result. Luckily, the president says it's all a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. His head of the Environmental Protection Agency does not accept the scientific consensus that it's happening and humans are causing it. And all of us will have to explain to our kids what the hell we were doing.
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