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James A. Carton
physical oceanographer


Why should we care about the World Ocean?

  • Ocean's role in weather and climate
    • Evaporation from the Ocean provides the moisture/energy that drives many storm systems. Maritime tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico and polar air from the northern North Atlantic are particularly important here in Maryland.
    • The Ocean contains most of the planet's available carbon dioxide and absorbs 20-30% of what we add each year.
    • The Ocean stores most of the excess heat captured by carbon dioxide and other atmospheric pollutants, delaying their ultimate impact on air temperature.
    • Ocean plankton produce half of the planet's oxygen.
  • Ocean's role in global economy
    • The global fish catch is equal in importance to global poultry production.
  • The Ocean is changing
    • The excess heating is warming and stabilizing the upper Ocean. This warming is also causing the Ocean to expand, contributing to sea level rise.
    • The increased absorption of carbon dioxide dissolving into the Ocean converts to bicarbonate and makes seawater more acidic: CO2 + H20 -> H+ +HCO3-. What this is doing to biology we do not know.
    • Ocean fisheries are declining due to massive overfishing and nutrient pollution.
    • The most dramatic changes are ocurring in the Arctic.

    Hasn't the Earth's climate always been changing? Can't we adapt?

    Yep, our planet has experienced dramatic climate change, but nothing bigger than an ice age since humans have existed and only small changes since the development of agriculture when human population started to increase. When you think about adaptation now imagine playing musical chairs with 7.6 billion neighbors.

    Can we geoengineer our way out of climate change?

    We've learned a lot about the climate system, but there is much we still do not know particularly regarding biology. We need to be very careful about the unintended consequences of any tinkering. Future generations will expect us to have known better!

    An economist/politician/cable newscaster has assured me that the impact of humans on the environment (of which the climate impact of greenhouse gas pollution is just one factor) is a: overblown, or b: part of a 'natural cycle'. Who do I believe?

    I tell my kids if you have a medical concern talk to a medical doctor. If you have a climate concern talk to a climate scientist. There is no better source of information and many worse.

    Sea level rise in Maryland?

    Click here to see the annual sea level record at the Annapolis water gauge, which shows a rise of 14 inches during the past 85 years (sea level with tides and storm surge smoothed over). A 14 inch rise means the Maryland shoreline has retreated an average of ~20 feet, since 1930 (coastal Maryland is flat and easy to wash over). This retreat represents ~8.5 square miles of prime Maryland real estate, about 1/4th the area of Manhattan, gone for good*. Suppose this rate of sea level rise doubles or quadruples in the future (tourists in hip boots in downtown Baltimore)? Such increases in sea level rise are possible due to the increase in melt water running off of large ice sheets. You can see a time series of the declining mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets due to this melting at a NASA website here.

    *I leave it to an economist to estimate the full cost of the permanent loss of Maryland coastline (e.g. cost per annum × ∞)

    ~ FIN ~