The IPCC report paints a dire picture for our planet, as oceans, so far our allies against the climate crisis, could quickly turn against us. But scientists also show how there's still hope.
An upcoming study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) looks into the condition of the oceans and cryosphere (the Earth's regions that are covered in ice), and its findings are nothing short of distressing.
Some bad news
Up until now, the oceans and the cryosphere have been important allies for all life on Earth. They absorb excess CO2 that would otherwise warm the planet beyond repair, and provide pretty much all ecosystems on the planet with crucial resources and conditions that support a natural balance necessary for species to survive. All of that is now at risk, however.
Global warming is already threatening this balance. Oceans, which have a specific level of salt and temperature, are now undergoing a process of acidification due to the enormous amounts of CO2 they're absorbing, the increasing temperature, and the introduction of more and more fresh water from glaciers and the ice sheets. This process could end up destroying entire ecosystems if not kept in check.
Likewise, anywhere between 30% and 90% if the permanent ice in the Northern Hemisphere could end up melting by the turn of the century, which would release billions of tonnes of CO2 that is now trapped in the soil. This would, in turn, accelerate warming even more, setting up the conditions for a truly catastrophic future.
Another problem with the global melting of the planet's ice sheets is the threat of flooding and rising sea levels, which the report examines closely. It will reportedly stress the fact that the risk for small island nations and big coastal cities is higher than many anticipate, with sea levels potentially rising over 100 meters above current lines in the coming two centuries.
"By the end of this century, and if current adaptation efforts are not substantially scaled up, we must expect high levels of risk on low coasts such as atoll islands like the Maldives, and some Arctic communities even in a low-emission scenario," said Alexandre Magnan, co-author of the IPCC Ocean Report. "In a higher-emission scenario, even wealthy megacities such as New York or Shanghai and large tropical agricultural deltas such as the Mekong will face high or very high risks."
Jean-Pierre Gattuso, IPCC author and a CNRS scientist, warned that "Extreme sea level events, such as surges from tropical cyclones, that are currently historically rare, for example today's 100-year event, will become common by 2100 under all emissions scenarios."
But not everything is bad news
The report is bleak, for sure. But not all is bad. Scientists will also outline how the oceans can yet remain our allies against climate change if we handle things just right, pointing to hopeful solutions found within these vast bodies of water.
More specifically, there are many kinds of renewable energy systems based on the oceans that could solve much of our power needs and help us move away from fossil fuels. Planting more mangroves and seagrass could also prove pivotal for our attempts to quickly remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Changing our diet to be more synergistic with what the oceans provide can likewise ensure that our time on this planet does not end nearly as soon as it might if we do nothing.
But make no mistake. We need to act now, or future generations (and ourselves) will suffer the consequences in the coming decades. That's not a good scenario for anyone.
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