As the oceans continue to heat up, those effects will become more catastrophic, scientists say. Rainier, more powerful storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 will become more common, and coastlines around the world will flood more frequently. Coral reefs, whose fish populations are sources of food for hundreds of millions of people, will come under increasing stress; a fifth of all corals have already died in the past three years.
Sea Level Rise
Another reason global warming has not been too bad yet is because the ocean absorbs most of the earth’s excess heat. But oceans are warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, half of the increase in ocean heat content since 1865 has occurred over the past two decades. Warmer water holds less oxygen, but the respiration rate of animals (except for marine mammals) increases with temperature, so they need more oxygen at the same time that less is available. A warmer ocean has less turnover (vertical water movements), which normally brings nutrient-rich water up from deep water to the plankton that photosynthesize near the surface. With fewer nutrients, they photosynthesize less and animals can’t get enough food.
In the Florida Keys, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Maui, coral reef degradation has caused sea floor depths to increase as sand and other sea floor materials have eroded over the past few decades, the USGS study found. In the waters around Maui, the sea floor losses amounted to 81 million cubic meters of sand, rock and other material – about what it would take to fill up the Empire State Building 81 times, the researchers calculated.
In the vast and chaotic climate systems that govern our atmosphere and oceans, making sense of how one change — diminished sea ice — affects places or people thousands of miles away is a task of such extraordinary complexity that it strains even the most sophisticated supercomputers.
The slice of land that has supported the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians through trapping fishing, and agriculture for 170 years is rapidly being swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico.