As it marks World Ocean Day, the World Meteorological Organization warns the continued rise of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is threatening the ecosystems of the world’s oceans.
Carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas emitted from human activities, is the key driver of global warming. Scientists say CO2 emissions hang around in the atmosphere for a very long time—from 300 to 1,000 years.
WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis says because of this long lifetime, rising emissions of CO2 will have a profound impact on future generations.
“We are not just talking about one or two, we are talking about many generations—will be committed to seeing more impacts of climate change, that means rising temperatures, more extreme weather, melting ice, rising sea level and all the associated impacts,” said Nullis.
The ocean absorbs around 23 percent of the annual atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide and acts as a buffer against climate change. Latest data from the atmospheric monitoring station in Hawaii, the Mauna Loa Observatory, find a considerable rise in CO2 emissions in May compared to those in previous years.
Nullis says this is causing ocean acidification, a phenomenon that will have a very serious impact on ocean ecosystems.
“This has, obviously, a very damaging effect on marine ecosystems, coral reefs…The ocean also absorbs 90 percent of the excess heat from human activities. And as a result, ocean heat is at a record level and large parts of the ocean are seeing heatwaves every year,” said Nullis.
A recent report by two U.N. agencies notes at least 25 percent of the world’s live coral has been lost in the last three decades due to ocean acidification and marine heatwaves.
If the trend continues, the agencies warn it could lead to the loss of functional coral reef ecosystems around most of the world by mid-century.
That has huge consequences, as coral reefs provide essential habitat for 25 percent of all marine life—estimated at well over one million species.