Climate Change is Altering Oceans and the Cryosphere: Report
Sat, April 17, 2021

Climate Change is Altering Oceans and the Cryosphere: Report

The Paris Agreement aimed to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. / Photo by Sergey Novikov via 123rf


In 2015, several countries reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change. Known as the Paris Agreement, it aimed to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The agreement’s goal is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Also, to initiate efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) analyzed the impacts linked with the increasing global temperatures and how the world can achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal. World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organization that turns big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity, and human well-being, reported that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires major and immediate transformation. This means that behavior and technologies need to shift across the board to reduce global emissions. 

The report stated that there should be significant steps that countries need to take to reduce emissions. These include reducing food loss and waste, changing dietary choices, improving the efficiency of food production, and reducing energy demand. These efforts will not only bring benefits to our environment but also to the economy. Reports showed that bold climate action can deliver $26 trillion in revenue, generate more than 65 million jobs, and avoid more than 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution by 2030. 

However, we are far from achieving those.

The latest report from IPCC titled “The Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” showed how the fate of our oceans and climate are inextricably linked. According to National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel, the damage that climate change has already done to the Earth’s vast oceans and fragile ice sheets may be hard to reverse already. At the same time, it predicts the future of these ecosystems. This is the panel’s first comprehensive update on how human-driven climate change is upsetting our planet’s oceans and cryosphere. 



Earth’s Ocean and Cryosphere are Taking the Heat of Climate Change

Since the 1980s, the ocean has absorbed about 20 to 30 percent of humans’ carbon emissions. Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, reported that this has caused the ocean’s pH to decline and become more acidic while reducing the oxygen content. If this continues, the pH of the ocean surface is projected to drop by around 0.3 points by the end of the century, which can have several impacts on marine life. 

For instance, ocean acidification can deplete seawater of the minerals that corals use to build their exoskeletons. It can also make it difficult for small creatures like shrimps, crabs, and snails to build their shells and impairs the function of tiny algae that ferry carbon to the deep ocean. In general, aquatic species would move to find more hospitable habitats, which will significantly impact food chains and ecosystems. 

Meanwhile, our planet’s frozen regions or cryosphere are losing ice and snow rapidly and warming faster than the rest of the world. The IPCC report showed that Arctic sea ice is already shrinking and the loss of ice from the Antarctic and Greenland is contributing seven times as much to sea-level rise as it was just two decades ago. If this continues, the world could see a two-meter rise in sea levels by the end of the century in the most extreme scenario.

Due to the melting of the cryosphere, many communities worldwide have experienced disruptions to their freshwater supply, cultural traditions, tourism, transportation, and infrastructure. According to Carbon Brief, a UK-based website designed to improve the understanding of climate change, both in terms of the science and the policy response, this could also potentially lead to the collapse in some parts of the Antarctic ice sheet. 

The report also showed that there is a possibility that glaciers could shrink by 20 percent this century. Some regions would be seeing a reduction of more than 80 percent. This means that Arctic permafrost is facing widespread disappearance. IPCC chair Hoesung Lee stated that while this would seemingly not affect people, especially those living far away, glaciers provide water for billions of people. “…we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways—for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation, and tourism, for health and wellbeing, for culture and identity,” Lee said. 


Our planet’s frozen regions or cryosphere are losing ice and snow rapidly and warming faster than the rest of the world. / Photo by alphaspirit via 123rf


A Wake-Up Call

The report predicted that the Earth’s oceans will continue to warm, rise, and become more acidic. Under the current global emission rate, oceans are expected to absorb five to seven times as much heat as was taken up over the last five decades by the end of the century. Projections are also grim for the cryosphere. It is expected that glacier mass would decline by about 18 percent to 36 percent at the end of the century, contributing to 3.7 inches to 7.9 inches of sea-level rise.

Louie Psihoyos, filmmaker and executive director of the Oceanic Preservation Society, stated that the IPCC report serves as a wake-up call for everyone that we are all affected by the altering of the Earth’s oceans and cryosphere. “These signals are too strong for us to ignore any longer—now is the time for bold, urgent climate action to avoid even more catastrophic impacts,” he said. 

Fortunately, it’s not too late. We can still do something about it. According to Lee, sharply reducing emissions can impact people and their livelihoods because it can potentially make their lives more manageable. There’s also a need to increase our ability to build resilience, push for ambitious and effective adaptation of sustainable development, and protect and restore ecosystems. 

Indeed, keeping our global temperature from increasing will not only protect the ocean and cryosphere but ultimately sustain all life on Earth. This is a critical time for all of us to address climate change and prevent further damage.