According to the dictionary, getting yourself in hot water means getting yourself into trouble for which you risk punishment. Well, we are heating up the water that covers most of our planet and we will most certainly be punished. I refer of course to the oceans.
Our heating of the atmosphere has now become so abundantly obvious that only the willfully blind refuse to see it. Floods, droughts, wildfires, storms, all aggravated by the rising temperatures of global warming.
Except for rising sea levels we pay less attention to the fact we are also warming the oceans. This summer, sea surface temperatures worldwide have broken records for monrhs, up to 6 ºC warmer than normal in some areas. Water temperature off southern Florida have hit 38 ºC, as hot as a hot tub, as hot as the maximum recommended for a baby’s bath, the highest sea surface temperature ever recorded.
Too hot for a baby and too hot for corals. When water temperatures exceed the low 30s, coral bleaches. Bleaching doesn’t outright kill coral but it weakens it and if maintained can lead to death. Losing coral reefs would not only be devastating to reef ecologies but to the ecology of the oceans as a whole.
They protect coastal areas by reducing the power of waves and their thousands of species—25 percent of marine biodiversity—provide a crucial source of income for millions of people. They have an estimated global value of $6-trillion each year, due to their contribution to fishing, tourism and coastal protection.
Also threatened are the world’s mangroves which are also prolific supporters of ocean life. Both coral and mangroves sequester carbon.
And of course the rising temperatures contribute to sea level rise, threatening the two billion people who live in half of the world’s megacities.
The oceans are central to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and stabilizing the Earth’s climate. They generate 50 percent of the oxygen we need, absorb 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions and capture 90 percent of the excess heat generated by these emissions—the lungs of the planet and the largest carbon sink. Unfortunately as the water warms it has less ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
Global warming is also changing the way ocean heat moves around the planet.
According to a new study by the University of Copenhagen, if current greenhouse gas emissions persist the ocean current that carries heat from the Caribbean to the North Atlantic, the Gulf Stream System, will collapse. This current accounts for most of the heat redistribution from the tropics to Western Europe.
This would result in further warming in the tropics, where rising temperatures are already worsening living conditions, and, ironically, a sudden drop of temperatures in Western Europe. The UK and other places in Europe would be as cold as Canada at the same latitude. (Paris is north of Ottawa). Crop production could fall dramatically in Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Ukraine.
We have indeed got ourselves in hot water. The question now is how much punishment we will continue to inflict on ourselves. Just how masochistic are we?