No matter how far inland you live, the oceans affect your everyday life. Ocean covers 70% of our planet’s surface, and 97% of all water is in the ocean. The sea has a tremendous impact on the earth’s climate. And right now, the oceans are changing. They are warming, and sea levels are rising. What does this mean for the earth’s climate?
First, it helps to look at how the ocean affects climate and weather, both in coastal regions and inland.
The world’s oceans absorb more of the sun’s heat than the land or the atmosphere does. Ocean currents then distribute the heat around the globe. Water evaporates from the sea and falls as rain over water and land. The ocean also absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2), as plants do, cleaning the air. Plants growing underwater, such as seaweed, carry out photosynthesis, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
Sea life depends on this process and the delicate balance of acidity and temperature it maintains in the water. But because of high levels of carbon dioxide caused by humans burning fossil fuels, the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean is increasing. That in turn is making the ocean warmer and more acidic. This is causing problems ranging from the bleaching and death of coral reefs in the warm waters near the Equator to the death of krill, the tiny creatures who live near sea ice and are eaten by whales, seals and fish.
How Can We Help the Sea?
Just as the ocean affects climate far inland, what we do affects the ocean no matter how far inland we are. People living in Nebraska or Saskatchewan can be a positive or negative influence on the ocean, not just those in California or Nova Scotia. Scientists have linked rising temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean to increased rainfall in South America.
If humans cut our use of fossil fuel dramatically, we can make a real difference to health of the ocean, and in turn to the health of our planet. It isn’t realistic to tell people to give up cars and stop heating their homes. The changes we make don’t have to result in a poorer quality of life for our families. It just means finding better ways to do things, ways that allow us to replace or reduce the fossil fuel we use.
Switching to an electric or hybrid car or installing solar panels can significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide your family puts into the atmosphere. But smaller changes help too. Insulating your home well means you use less fuel to heat it, a win-win because it also means you save on utility bills. Using public transportation where it is practical and combining trips to minimize driving where it isn’t also helps.
Our planet’s ecosystem is beautifully, marvellously complex. As incredible as it sounds, someone installing solar panels in New Mexico is helping feed whales, seals and fish in the Arctic by helping keep the sea cool enough for the krill they need to survive. And someone improving their insulation in South Dakota or switching to an electric car in Manitoba is helping coral reefs survive near the Equator.