‘A Sobering Moment’: UN Warns Planet Could See Cataclysmic 2.9°C of Heating by 2100

Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

“These alarming findings merit a transformative response at COP27,” said the president-designate of the upcoming climate talks.

JAKE JOHNSON October 26, 2022

A United Nations report published Wednesday ahead of November’s COP27 talks warns that planetary heating could reach a catastrophic 2.9°C by the end of the century without immediate action from the world’s largest polluters to dramatically rein in carbon emissions and transition away from fossil fuels.

The analysis by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) examines the climate commitments of the 193 national parties to the Paris climate accord, which sets out to limit warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels—an amount of heating that would still have devastating impacts across the world, particularly in poor and low-lying nations.

“Those who are expected to do more are far from doing enough, and the consequences of this is affecting lives and livelihoods across the globe.”

Even if countries meet their current climate targets—something many nations, including the United States, are not on track to achieve as climate advocates and scientists push for bolder action—global carbon emissions are projected to rise 10.6% by 2030 relative to 2010 levels and the planet is set to warm by an average of 2.1 to 2.9°C by 2100.

“The latest U.N. report is another reminder that we are still just throwing cups of water at a raging inferno,” Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media, wrote on Twitter. “It’s past time for [U.S. President Joe Biden] to declare a climate emergency and use every power he has to get us off fossil fuels.”

The report notes that while “some progress” has been made toward reducing planet-warming emissions over the past year, “an urgent need for either a significant increase in the level of ambition of [nationally determined contributions] between now and 2030 or a significant overachievement” of climate action plans will be necessary to avert disastrous warming. The New York Times noted that “just 26 of 193 countries that agreed last year to step up their climate actions have followed through with more ambitious plans.”

“The downward trend in emissions expected by 2030 shows that nations have made some progress this year,” said Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of U.N. Climate Change. “But the science is clear and so are our climate goals under the Paris Agreement. We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5°C world.”

“To keep this goal alive,” Stiell added, “national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years.”

The report was published as extreme weather made more intense by the climate emergency continues to ravage large swaths of the globe, taking lives, destroying communities, and exacerbating the intertwined crises of poverty, hunger, and inequality. Millions are reeling from devastating flooding in Nigeria and Pakistan while East Africa is in the midst of a starvation crisis intensified by prolonged drought.

The potential impacts of 2.9°C of warming are stark. As Scott Kulp, a computational scientist at Climate Central, told Buzzfeed last year, “an estimated 12% of the current global population living on land could be threatened under long-term future sea level rise under the 3°C scenario.”

“So that amounts to 810 million people,” Kulp noted.

Another expert, Rutgers University climate scientist Robert Kopp, told the outlet that “the more we push the system above 2°C—but we don’t know how much—the more the chance we trigger ice sheet processes that could rapidly increase sea level rise.”

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs and president-designate of the upcoming COP27 talks, said in a statement that the new UNFCCC report is further “testimony to the fact that we are off track on achieving the Paris climate goal and keeping the 1.5 degrees within reach.”

“Raising ambition and urgent implementation is indispensable for addressing the climate crisis,” said Shoukry. “This includes cutting and removing emissions faster and at wider scope of economic sectors, to protect us from more severe adverse climate impacts and devastating loss and damage.”

“This is a sobering moment, and we are in a race against time,” Shoukry added. “Several of those who are expected to do more are far from doing enough, and the consequences of this is affecting lives and livelihoods across the globe. I am conscious that it is and should be a continuum of action until 2030 then 2050. However, these alarming findings merit a transformative response at COP27.”

Whether a summit sponsored by Coca-Cola and organized in part by a greenwashing public relations firm is up to the task of delivering such a response remains to be seen.

Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Continue Reading‘A Sobering Moment’: UN Warns Planet Could See Cataclysmic 2.9°C of Heating by 2100

Open Letter to Liz Truss on ‘Anti Growth’ – XR co-founder, Gail Bradbrook

Dear Liz Truss,

In your recent speech at the Conservative party conference you mentioned growth 29 times; said “I will not allow the anti-growth coalition to hold us back” and named Extinction Rebellion as part of this coalition.

Thank you for opening up this critical conversation. We appreciate the opportunity to share our understanding and we hope many others will join us for a grown up conversation in these urgent times. 

We know that members of your party understand our concerns, and are also worried about your economic ideology. When we met Michael Gove in 2019 he said:

“We have had an economic model for generations which has been extractive and exploitative, and in the same way as we’ve created debt fuelled economic growth that creates a burden for the next generation, so our approach towards natural resources has had to change and we’re wrestling as a government with how to do that, how to move towards a more circular economy. And also how to re think different parts of our economy, and again we may disagree over the imperative or the importance placed on growth, but certainly how we can achieve a greater degree of human flourishing and at the same time be more respectful to the limited resources that the earth has and critically also recognise that its not simply about drawing down resources, the earth is a system, our environment is a system of which we are a part and if we do violence to it then we are doing violence to ourselves, we are hacking at the tree of life.”  

There are many forms of growth that are beneficial. Specific sectors of our economy badly need to grow, for example homegrown sources of renewable energy. A sector that would do so much better if this supposed free market was not distorted by the vast subsidies the UK gives to fossil fuels.

However, the data is clear, growth for growth’s sake, without limits, without purpose, is destroying life on earth. When unfettered growth happens in a human body we call it cancer. Economic growth is only beneficial up to a certain point, beyond which it is harmful to people and planet. Economic growth is lucrative to those who are already wealthy (who unsurprisingly then insist on keeping it as the focus). Trickle down economics has failed us for a long time, everyone knows it’s just an out of date idea, not a realistic method that improves the lives of the general public. When we are measuring GDP we would best consider it a measure of the Gross Destruction of the Planet by the Greedy Death Project! 

Do you not agree when Margaret Thatcher said “We should always remember that free markets are a means to an end. They would defeat their object if by their output they did more damage to the quality of life through pollution than the well-being they achieve by the production of goods and services”

Extinction Rebellion are calling for a Well Being economy, which has a clear and measured purpose to maximise wellness and minimise harm; at home and across the world. There is no shortage of fantastic ideas about how to achieve that, including ideas to support circular uses of materials whilst staying within planetary and social boundaries. We love imaginative ideas, such as regenerative finance and mission based economics; where there could be a focus of our specific strengths on tackling major challenges together, making use of the innovation and delivery capabilities in business and markets, the organising capacities of our civil service, the intellect of our academics. We are a wealthy country, we could afford to pay for universal basic services and lead the world on tackling the climate and ecological crisis. And Extinction Rebellion champions assemblies of ordinary people, to think together with experts about how to make this vital transition.

Because it doesn’t matter how attached your Government is, Ms. Truss, to a specific form of free market ideology. Physics and ecology are ultimately in charge and the life support systems of the earth are starting to tip. Doubling down on the extraction of fossil fuels commits our children and grandchildren here and globally to lives where food production fails and civilisation  collapses. We charge that members of your Government, who are making decisions now, against the advice of scientists and international bodies, are committing crimes against humanity. 

We see truths shared from many quarters. King Charles has said “We need nothing short of a paradigm shift, one that inspires action at revolutionary levels and pace.” The Chief Executive of Shell Ben Van Beurden recently called for a windfall tax and  Philip Kotler, father of modern  marketing called for Degrowth (the academic term for an economy focussed on Wellbeing) In October 2018 the IPCC said that limiting global warming would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. 

People will become increasingly desperate in this country as the consequences of years of terrible choices come home and impact us all. Choices to sell off our assets, to poison our food, air and water; while at the same time we failed to invest in homegrown renewables and insulate homes. We are left with little security and a cost of living scandal. Over 20,000 people in the UK already died unnecessarily this year since April. Those with the least responsibility for these crises are suffering in the millions, battered and uprooted by climate disasters, from the Horn of Africa, to Bangladesh, to Mozambique, to Pakistan.

We see the callousness and the corruption and the refusal to face reality. Those of us who have the capacity and the conscience will do all we can to stop this death machine. There are a growing number of people who just can’t pay the bills that are mounting and others who won’t work for poverty wages, unable to make ends meet despite their hard work (though I understand you, Liz Truss, think British workers “need more graft”). We will strike bill payments in solidarity and strength, and we will not let you frack the British countryside, poison the water and the people.

Yes, we are uniting, because we believe in our shared humanity, we love our country, and this Earth, and we are willing to take responsibility, whether that comes at a cost to us, on behalf of our collective wellbeing. 

A key aspect of civil disobedience is a belief in the need to talk. I would welcome a dialogue with yourself or colleagues – please be in touch!

Sincerely,

Gail Bradbrook

Dr. Gail Bradbrook, Co-Founder Extinction Rebellion

Notes for Editors

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/23/uk-has-biggest-fossil-fuel-subsidies-in-the-eu-finds-commission
  2.  A systematic review of the evidence on decoupling of GDP, resource use and GHG emissions, part I: bibliometric and conceptual mapping https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/159385/; Tim Parrique https://unevenearth.org/2020/06/decoupling/ Limits to Growth review https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3xw3x/new-research-vindicates-1972-mit-prediction-that-society-will-collapse-soon 
  3.  When countries have low GDP, economic growth brings a high marginal benefit. But, for developed countries with high GDP, the marginal benefit of economic growth is lower. There is a diminishing marginal utility of extra income and at higher levels, the problems of growth may outweigh the benefits. https://www.economicshelp.org/macroeconomics/economic-growth/benefits-growth/ 
  4.  The academic term is Degrowth – eg see Jason Hickel Less is More, https://weall.org/ etc
  5.  Circular Economy eg https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/overview
  6.  Doughnut Economics https://doughnuteconomics.org/about-doughnut-economics
  7. Eg https://thefinanser.com/2022/10/what-is-regenerative-finance-refi-part-one 
  8.  Mariana Mazzucato https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/missions-could-make-europe-cool-again-prof-mariana-mazzucato 
  9.  UBS eg https://universalbasicservices.org/; Calls for UK to not drop its commitments : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/03/cop27-host-egypt-warns-uk-not-backtrack-climate-agenda
  10. https://theconversation.com/climate-tipping-points-could-lock-in-unstoppable-changes-to-the-planet-how-close-are-they-191043
  11. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/oct/04/shell-chief-tax-energy-firms-ben-van-beurden-gas-electricity
  12. Philip Kotler, father of modern marketing, supports degrowth: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ben-tolhurst_degrowth-the-case-for-constraining-consumption-activity-6982821869351510016-jRQb?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_ios
  13. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2335991-there-are-thousands-more-uk-deaths-than-usual-and-we-dont-know-why/
Continue ReadingOpen Letter to Liz Truss on ‘Anti Growth’ – XR co-founder, Gail Bradbrook

UK environment laws under threat in ‘deregulatory free-for-all’

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/23/uk-environment-laws-under-threat-in-deregulatory-free-for-all

Environmentalists accused Liz Truss’s government of reneging on a commitment made after Brexit to halt the decline of nature by 2030. They say the revoking of 570 environmental laws that were rolled over from EU law after Brexit amounts to a deregulatory free-for-all leaving the environment unprotected.

The bill laid before parliament outlines how 570 environmental laws, and hundreds more covering every government department, including transport, health and social care, working hours and other areas, are being lined up to be removed from UK law or rewritten. These include the habitat regulations that have been vital in the protection of places for wildlife in the last 30 years and laws covering the release of nitrates and phosphates into rivers.

The laws were retained after Brexit when the then Conservative environment secretary, Michael Gove, promised the UK’s environmental laws would not be watered down.

RSPB ‘not ruling out’ direct action to defend nature from government policy

The head of the RSPB says the bird charity is ruling nothing out as it organises a mobilisation of millions of people against what it calls the government’s “attack on nature”.

Beccy Speight dismissed accusations by Conservative MPs that the group was lying to its members and pursuing a marketing drive, as it leads a coalition campaigning against the government over key “growth” policies which it argues will damage wildlife and nature.

The chief executive said a meeting with the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Ranil Jayawardena, had not provided any reassurance that the government’s growth policies would protect nature.

The director general of the National Trust, Hilary McGrady, accused the government of “demonising” conservationists, saying her members were “outraged and worried”.

Continue ReadingUK environment laws under threat in ‘deregulatory free-for-all’

French politicians say that UK waters and politics are full of shit

Hundreds of coastal overflow sites ‘not included’ in government sewage plan

Government plans to reduce sewage spills in English waters fail to include hundreds of storm overflows into estuaries and the sea, according to new analysis.

In the government’s draft storm overflow discharge reduction plan the only coastal overflows that must cut spills are those near designated bathing sites, but it’s not clear what distance is classified as “near” one,  according to the Marine Conservation Society.

Its analysis found that around 600 coastal sites therefore won’t have to reduce the number of times they spill sewage into the sea, some of which could be near Marine Protected Areas.

Meanwhile, for inland waters and designated bathing waters water companies must not discharge sewage more than an average of 10 rainfall events per year by 2050, according to the draft targets. A rainfall event is up to 12 hours of rain.

By 2050? Looks like UK government shits are quite content with UK swimming in shit. I suppose it’s only poor, insignificant people after all. Rich people can swim at European beaches of course …

Merde! French fury over UK’s ‘despicable’ sewage dumping that ‘reflects image of government’

Britain’s “despicable” dumping of raw sewage into the sea threatens human health, fishing grounds and marine life in the English Channel and the North Sea, says a French MEP leading a campaign to sue the British government.

Stéphanie Yon-Courtin told i that she was shocked by the surge in cases of Britain’s sewage overflows seeping directly into the sea, which “reflects the image of the government.”

“reflects the image of the government.” = full of shits

Liz Truss ‘has sewage on her hands’ over Environment Agency cuts

The Tory leadership frontrunner, Liz Truss, was responsible for cutting millions of pounds of funding earmarked for tackling water pollution during her time as environment secretary, the Guardian can reveal.

Truss, who was in charge at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) between 2014 and 2016, oversaw “efficiency” plans set out in the 2015 spending review to reduce Environment Agency funding by £235m.

This included a £24m cut from a government grant for environmental protection, including surveillance of water companies to prevent the dumping of raw sewage, between 2014-15 and 2016-17, according to the National Audit Office.

Continue ReadingFrench politicians say that UK waters and politics are full of shit

Rebellious Climate Scientists Have Message for Humanity: ‘Mobilize, Mobilize, Mobilize’

Scientists in the Netherlands blocked an entrance to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy in The Hague on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Photo: Scientist Rebellion / @ScientistRebel1)

In face of the “escalating climate emergency,” the advocacy group Scientist Rebellion warns that IPCC summary to global policymakers remains “alarmingly reserved, docile, and conservative.”

Republished from Common Dreams under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

KENNY STANCILApril 6, 2022

Amid a weeklong global civil disobedience campaign to demand climate action commensurate with mounting evidence about the need for swift decarbonization, Scientist Rebellion is highlighting specific gaps between what experts say is necessary and what governments allowed to be published in the United Nations’ latest climate assessment.

“We need a billion climate activists…The time is now. We’ve waited far too long.”

The landmark report on mitigation by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—part of the U.N.’s sixth comprehensive climate assessment since 1992 and possibly the last to be published with enough time to avert the most catastrophic consequences of the planetary crisis—was compiled by 278 researchers from 65 countries.

The authors, who synthesized thousands of peer-reviewed studies published in the past several years, make clear over the course of nearly 3,000 pages that “without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.”

Meanwhile, a 64-page Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the report—a key reference point for governments—required the approval of all 195 member states of the IPCC and was edited with their input.

Following a contentious weekend of negotiations in which wealthy governments attempted to weaken statements about green financing for low-income nations and fossil fuel-producing countries objected to unequivocal language about the need to quickly eliminate coal, oil, and gas extraction, the IPCC document was published several hours later than expected on Monday.

“Despite the escalating climate emergency and the total absence of emissions cuts, the framing of the final version of the SPM is still alarmingly reserved, docile, and conservative,” Scientist Rebellion, an international alliance of academics who are advocating for systemic political and economic changes in line with scientific findings, said Tuesday in a statement.

“The science has never been clearer: to have any chance of retaining a habitable planet, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut radically now,” the group continued. “Limiting warming to 1.5°C and responding to the climate emergency requires an immediate transformation across all sectors and strata of society, a mobilization of historic proportions: a climate revolution.”

“The IPCC [has] avoided naming the major culprits for 30 years, which is one reason for the absence of real emissions cuts,” the group added. “Facts detailing the complicity of the world’s richest countries in fueling the climate crisis have been watered down by the IPCC’s political review process.”

Scientist Rebellion proceeded to contrast the final version of the SPM—”the document that garners almost all attention”—to an early draft of a summary of the Working Group III report on mitigation that IPCC authors associated with the group leaked last August out of concern that their conclusions would be diluted by policymakers.

Peter Kalmus, a Los Angeles-based climate scientist and author who is participating in this week’s direct actions, told Common Dreams that the shortcomings of governments and policymakers have driven him to act.

Kalmus said he was willing to engage in civil disobedience and risk arrest this week, “because I’ve tried everything else I can think of over the past decade and nothing has worked. I see humanity heading directly toward climate disaster.”

With humanity “currently on track to lose everything we love,” he said, the scientific community must intensify its efforts.

“If we don’t rapidly end the fossil fuel industry and begin acting like Earth breakdown is an emergency, we risk civilizational collapse and potentially the death of billions, not to mention the loss of major critical ecosystems around the world,” said Kalmus. “This is so much bigger than me. Expect climate scientists to be taking such actions repeatedly in the future and in large numbers.”

On Wednesday, direct actions by scientists took place in Berlin, Germany; The Hague, Netherlands; Bogata, Colombia, and other cities.

In its Tuesday assessment, Scientist Rebellion documented how the political review process weakened or eliminated language about carbon inequality and the need for far-reaching socio-economic transformation to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in the final SPM:

Example 1: Section B6 of the report originally stated that “institutional inertia and a social bias towards the status quo are leading to a risk of locking in future GHG emissions that may be costly or difficult to abate.” This has been replaced with “global GHG emissions in 2030 associated with the implementation of nationally determined contributions… would make it likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century.” The final version also no longer mentions that “vested interests” and a focus on an “incremental rather than a systemic approach” are limiting factors to ambitious transformation.

Example 2: The leaked SPM stated that “within countries, inequalities increased for both income and GHG emissions between 1970 and 2016, with the top 1% accounting for 27% of income growth,” and that “top emitters dominate emissions in key sectors, for example the top 1% account for 50% of GHG emissions from aviation.” Neither statement appears in the final version.

“While the SPM—being approved line-by-line by all governments—is reserved, docile, and conservative, the situation is clear,” said Scientist Rebellion.

The group went on to quote U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who said Monday that “we are on a fast track to climate disaster.”

As Common Dreams reported Monday, more than 1,000 scientists in at least 25 countries on every continent in the world are expected to participate in strikes, occupations, and other actions this week to highlight “the urgency and injustice of the climate and ecological crisis,” and several demonstrations are already underway. 

Guterres, for his part, said Monday that “climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”

For his part, Kalmus acknowledged it was going to take much more than a series of direct actions by scientists to turn the tide against inaction.

“We need a billion climate activists,” Kalmus said. “I encourage everyone to consider where we’re heading as a species, and to engage in civil disobedience and other actions. The time is now. We’ve waited far too long.”

“Mobilize, mobilize, mobilize,” he said, “before we lose everything.”


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Continue ReadingRebellious Climate Scientists Have Message for Humanity: ‘Mobilize, Mobilize, Mobilize’

Extreme heat in oceans ‘passed point of no return’ in 2014

Extreme heat in the world’s oceans passed the “point of no return” in 2014 and has become the new normal, according to research.

Scientists analysed sea surface temperatures over the last 150 years, which have risen because of global heating. They found that extreme temperatures occurring just 2% of the time a century ago have occurred at least 50% of the time across the global ocean since 2014.

In some hotspots, extreme temperatures occur 90% of the time, severely affecting wildlife. More than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases is absorbed by the ocean, which plays a critical role in maintaining a stable climate.

“By using this measure of extremes, we’ve shown that climate change is not something that is uncertain and may happen in the distant future – it’s something that is a historical fact and has occurred already,” said Kyle Van Houtan, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, US, and one of the research team. “Extreme climate change is here, it’s in the ocean, and the ocean underpins all life on Earth.”

The heat content of the top 2,000 metres of the ocean set a new record in 2021, the sixth in a row. Prof John Abraham at the University of St Thomas in Minnesota, one of the team behind the assessment, said ocean heat content was the most relevant to global climate, while surface temperatures were most relevant to weather patterns, as well as many ecosystems.

“Oceans are critical to understanding climate change. They cover about 70% of the planet’s surface and absorb more than 90% of global warming heat,” Abraham said. “The new study is helpful because the researchers look at the surface temperatures. It finds there has been a big increase in extreme heat at the ocean’s surface and that the extremes are increasing over time.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/01/extreme-heat-oceans-passed-point-of-no-return-high-temperatures-wildlife-seas
Continue ReadingExtreme heat in oceans ‘passed point of no return’ in 2014

Scotland leads on wind power

Scotland is hugely expanding it’s wind generated power. Well done Scotland.

Huge ScotWind renewables sale ‘could bring oil-style’ boom to Scotland

17 projects with a combined 25gw potential have been approved in a £700 million sale.

Greta Thunberg, Nicola Sturgeon and Vanessa Nakate at Cop26

The Scottish Government expects to secure at least £1 billion of investment in the Scottish supply chain for every gigawatt of power. Sturgeon says the workforce is “superbly placed with transferable skills to capitalise on the transition to new energy sources” and “people working right now in the oil and gas sector in the North East of Scotland can be confident of opportunities for their future”.

She went on: “While it is not yet possible to say with certainty what the scale of development will ultimately be, there is no doubt that the scale of this opportunity is transformational – both for our environment and the economy.”

Funds raised will be channelled to the Scottish Government and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the “scale of opportunity here is truly historic”.

She said: “ScotWind puts Scotland at the forefront of the global development of offshore wind, represents a massive step forward in our transition to net zero, and will help deliver the supply chain investments and high quality jobs that will make the climate transition a fair one.”

The Scottish Government expects to secure at least £1 billion of investment in the Scottish supply chain for every gigawatt of power. Sturgeon says the workforce is “superbly placed with transferable skills to capitalise on the transition to new energy sources” and “people working right now in the oil and gas sector in the North East of Scotland can be confident of opportunities for their future”.

She went on: “While it is not yet possible to say with certainty what the scale of development will ultimately be, there is no doubt that the scale of this opportunity is transformational – both for our environment and the economy.”

Continue ReadingScotland leads on wind power

Climate change: UN emissions gap report a ‘thundering wake-up call’

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59049770

National plans to cut carbon fall far short of what’s needed to avert dangerous climate change, according to the UN Environment Programme.

Their Emissions Gap report says country pledges will fail to keep the global temperature under 1.5C this century.

The Unep analysis suggests the world is on course to warm around 2.7C with hugely destructive impacts.

...

Just a few days before COP26 opens in Glasgow and another scientific report on climate change is “another thundering wake-up call”, according to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.

Continue ReadingClimate change: UN emissions gap report a ‘thundering wake-up call’

Climate Crisis: Ocean Layer Mixing has slowed 6 times Faster than Scientists Feared, Endangering Sea Life

The ocean is becoming more stable – here’s why that might not be a good thing

Phil Hosegood, University of Plymouth

If you’ve ever been seasick, “stable” may be the last word you associate with the ocean. But as global temperatures rise, the world’s oceans are technically becoming more stable.

When scientists talk about ocean stability, they refer to how much the different layers of the sea mix with each other. A recent study analysed over a million samples and found that, over the past five decades, the stability of the ocean increased at a rate that was six times faster than scientists were anticipating.

Ocean stability is an important regulator of the global climate and the productivity of marine ecosystems which feed a substantial portion of the world’s people. It controls how heat, carbon, nutrients and dissolved gases are exchanged between the upper and lower layers of the ocean.

So while a more stable ocean might sound idyllic, the reality is less comforting. It could mean the upper layer trapping more heat, and containing less nutrients, with a big impact on ocean life and the climate.

How the oceans circulate heat

Sea surface temperatures get colder the further you travel from the equator towards the poles. It’s a simple point, but it has enormous implications. Because temperature, along with salinity and pressure, controls the density of seawater, this means that the ocean surface also becomes denser as you move away from the tropics.

Seawater density increases with depth too, because the sunlight that warms the ocean is absorbed at the surface, whereas the deep ocean is full of cold water. The change in density with depth is referred to by oceanographers as stability. The faster density increases with depth, the more stable the ocean is said to be.


This story is part of Oceans 21

Our series on the global ocean opened with five in-depth profiles. Look out for new articles on the state of our oceans in the lead up to the UN’s next climate conference, COP26. The series is brought to you by The Conversation’s international network.


It helps to think of the ocean as divided into two layers, each with different levels of stability.

The surface mixed layer occupies the upper (roughly) 100 metres of the ocean and is where heat, freshwater, carbon and dissolved gases are exchanged with the atmosphere. Turbulence whipped up by the wind and waves at the sea surface mixes all the water together.

The lowest layer is called the abyss, which extends from a few hundred metres depth to the seafloor. It’s cold and dark, with weak currents slowly circulating water around the planet that remains isolated from the surface for decades or even centuries.

Dividing the abyss and the surface mixed layer is something called the pycnocline. We can think of it like a layer of cling film (or Saran Wrap). It’s invisible and flexible, but it stops water moving through it. When the film is ripped into shreds, which happens in the ocean when turbulence effectively pulls the pycnocline apart, water can leak through in both directions. But as global temperatures rise and the ocean’s surface layer absorbs more heat, the pycnocline is becoming more stable, making it harder for water at the ocean’s surface and in the abyss to mix.

Two jellyfish swim near a hazy layer of ocean water.
Moon jellyfishes disturb the pycnocline in a Swedish fjord.
W. Carter/Wikipedia, CC BY

Why is that a problem? Well, there’s an invisible conveyor belt of seawater which moves warm water from the equator to the poles, where it’s cooled and becomes more dense and so sinks, returning back to the equator at depth. During this journey, the heat absorbed at the ocean’s surface is moved to the abyss, helping redistribute the ocean’s heat burden, accumulated from an atmosphere that’s rapidly warming due to our greenhouse gas emissions.

If a stabler pycnocline traps more heat in the surface of the ocean, it could disrupt how effectively the ocean absorbs excess heat and pile pressure on sensitive shallow-water ecosystems like coral reefs.

Increasing stability causes a nutrient drought

And just as the ocean surface contains heat that must be mixed downwards, the abyss contains an enormous reservoir of nutrients that need to be mixed upwards.

The building blocks of most marine ecosystems are phytoplankton: microscopic algae which use photosynthesis to make their own food and absorb vast quantities of CO₂ from the atmosphere, as well as produce most of the world’s oxygen.

Phytoplankton can only grow when there is enough light and nutrients. During spring, sunshine, longer days and lighter winds allow a seasonal pycnocline to form near the surface. Any available nutrients trapped above this pycnocline are quickly used up by the phytoplankton as they grow in what is called the spring bloom.

A satellite image depicting a bright blue plume off the south-west coast of England.
An algal bloom off the coast of south-west England.
Andrew Wilson and Steve Groom/NASA

For phytoplankton at the surface to keep growing, the nutrients from the abyss must cross the pycnocline. And so another problem emerges. If phytoplankton are starved of nutrients thanks to a strengthened pycnocline then there’s less food for the vast majority of ocean life, starting with the tiny microscopic animals which eat the algae and the small fish which eat them, and moving all the way up the food chain to sharks and whales.

Just as a more stable ocean is less effective at shifting heat into the deep sea and regulating the climate, it’s also worse at sustaining the vibrant food webs at the sunlit surface which society depends on for nourishment.

Should we be worried?

Ocean circulation is constantly evolving with natural variations and human-induced changes. The increasing stability of the pycnocline is just one part of an extremely complex puzzle that oceanographers are striving to solve.

To predict future changes in our climate, we use numerical models of the ocean and atmosphere that must include all of the physical processes responsible for changing them. We simply don’t have computers powerful enough to include the effects of small-scale, turbulent processes within a model that simulates conditions over a global scale.

We do know that human activity is having a greater than expected impact on fundamental aspects of our planet’s systems though. And we may not like the consequences.The Conversation

Phil Hosegood, Associate Professor in Physical Oceanography, University of Plymouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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