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Climate Change’s Fight Harder Than Thought: Study

This new research suggests that accomplishing that goal requires countries to pull 25 percent more carbon out of the atmosphere than they've already committed to cleaning up.

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Oceans, Temperature
People walk on the beach of Biarritz, southwestern France, along the Atlantic Ocean, Dec. 18, 2015. New research shows the oceans are storing much more heat than previously thought. VOA

A new report recently published in the journal Nature suggests the Earth’s oceans are absorbing more of the planet’s excess heat than previously thought.

Scientists have known for some time that oceans store excess heat energy, and this helps keep the planet in its balmy, just-right temperature for supporting the explosion of life on Earth.

Knowing how hot the ocean is getting, and how fast that temperature is rising, helps scientists understand more about human-impacted climate change. It helps them know how much excess energy is being produced, and it helps them predict how much heat the ocean is capable of absorbing and how much warming will be felt on the Earth’s surface.

Oceans, boats
Lobster boats are moored in the harbor in Stonington, Maine. VOA

Up until the report was issued this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) thought it had a pretty good handle on how much excess energy the oceans were absorbing. Using those numbers, the panel set targets for the amount of carbon reduction necessary to slow, and ultimately reverse, potentially devastating planetary warming.

But these new numbers suggest those targets may have to be revised upward by 25 percent. Research by the study’s lead author, Princeton professor Laure Resplandy, indicates our oceans are absorbing about 60 percent more heat energy than previously estimated.

According to Resplandy, the world’s oceans have taken up more than 13 zettajoules of energy every year between 1991 and 2016. A joule is the standard unit of energy; a zettajoule is one joule, followed by 21 zeroes.

Oceans, arctic
FILE – A young polar bear walks on ice over deep waters of the Arctic Ocean. VOA

“Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet deep,” Resplandy said. “Our data show that it would have warmed by 6.5 degrees Celsius every decade since 1991. In comparison, the estimate of the last IPCC assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4 degrees Celsius every decade.”

How they got the new numbers

It’s not that the old numbers were wrong; it’s that the new numbers relied on new techniques and new ways to measure ocean warming. The old techniques used spot measurements of ocean temperature. But Resplandy and her team measured the amount of oxygen and carbon in the air, a number they call “Atmospheric Oxygen Potential (APO).” As oceans warm, they release oxygen and carbon into the atmosphere, which increases APO.

Another factor that raises APO is the burning of fossil fuels. Resplandy and her team compared the expected rise in APO due to the burning of fossil fuels, and compared it to the actual APO they were seeing. By looking at the difference, the team was able to predict how much carbon and oxygen were being released by the oceans and, therefore, how warm the world’s oceans were getting.

climate, global warming, celsisu, oceansac
A fisherman stands on his boat as he fishes at the Tisma lagoon wetland park, also designated as Ramsar Site 1141 in the Convention on Wetlands, in Tisma, Nicaragua. VOA

Why the new numbers matter

A host of countries, including the U.S. and China, signed the Paris Climate Accord in 2015, which aims to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Many climate scientists predict that if temperatures go above that mark, humans will be faced with devastating long-term global affects. Keeping those temperatures down requires cutting the amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere.

Also Read: New Carbon Capture Technology Now Able To Fight Climate Change: Experts

The U.S. has since pulled out of that climate agreement, but most of the rest of the world remains focused on limiting the rise of the world’s average temperatures.

This new research suggests that accomplishing that goal requires countries to pull 25 percent more carbon out of the atmosphere than they’ve already committed to cleaning up. (VOA)

Next Story

Empty Nets as Malawi Sapped by Overfishing and Climate Change

But overfishing and climate change have taken their toll

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Malawi, Overfishing, Climate Change
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Economy & Business Empty Nets as Overfishing and Climate Change Sap Lake Malawi By Agence France-Presse July 22, 2019 04:00 PM FILE - In this aerial view, fishing boats are seen on the shore of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village on May 20, 2019 in Senga, Malawi. FILE - In this aerial view, fishing boats are seen on the shore of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village on May 20, 2019 in Senga, Malawi. VOA

On the shores of Lake Malawi, a crowd eagerly awaits the arrival of a white and yellow cedar wood boat carrying its haul.

The crew of six deliver a single net of chambo, sardine and tiny usipa fish from the boat, just one of 72 vessels that land their catch every day on the beach at Senga Bay.

But overfishing and climate change have taken their toll.

Hundreds of local traders gather each morning and afternoon at Senga only to find that fish populations are falling in Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest body of freshwater.

Malawi, Overfishing, Climate Change
On the shores of Lake Malawi, a crowd eagerly awaits the arrival of a white and yellow cedar wood boat carrying its haul. Pixabay

“We were hoping to catch a half-boat full or maybe a quarter-boat … but I’m afraid the fish are dwindling in numbers,” port manager Alfred Banda told AFP staring wearily at the small catch as it was dragged onto the sand.

“Before, we used to catch a full boat but now we are struggling,” he said, adding that a full boat would earn a team of between six and 12 fishermen about $300.

Bordering three countries — Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique — Lake Malawi stretches across more than 29,000 square kilometers (11,200 square miles) with over 1,000 species of fish.

The 14,000 people living at Senga Bay depend on the lake for food and for their livelihood.

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“Seven years ago there was lots more fish than today. In 2019 it is different, there’s no fish in the water,” trader Katrina Male, a 40-year-old mother of six, told AFP as she stalked the nets of newly brought in fish seeking the best deal.

“The fish nowadays are more expensive, because they are becoming scarce,” Male said. “Some children have stopped going to school because their parents can’t find the money.”

‘No alternative to fishing’

For both locals and climate experts, declining fish numbers reflect a combination of environmental change and overfishing that augurs ill for the future.

Malawi, Overfishing, Climate Change
The crew of six deliver a single net of chambo, sardine and tiny usipa fish from the boat, just one of 72 vessels that land their catch every day on the beach at Senga Bay. VOA

The World Bank ranks Malawi among the top 10 at-risk countries in Africa to climate change, with cyclones and floods among the major threats.

Senga community leader John White Said says increasing gale force winds and torrential rains have made it harder for fishermen on the lake.

“Our men can’t catch fish because of wind which is much stronger than before,” he said, adding that the rains are increasingly unpredictable on the lake.

“The rain before would not destroy houses and nature but now it comes with full power, destroying everything and that affects the water as well.”

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According to USAID, the number of rainfalls incidents in the aid-dependent country is likely to decrease — but each rainfall will be more intense, leading to droughts and floods.

The threat was highlighted in March when Malawi was hit by torrential rains from Cyclone Idai, killing 59 people. The storm also cut a swathe through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, leaving nearly 1,000 dead.

On top of the environmental impact, the number of fishermen in Senga had doubled in the last 10 years due to the lack of other jobs, Said said.

“There is no alternative to fishing.”

One of the few to benefit is 38-year-old boat owner Salim Jackson, who rents out his two vessels.
“I got into fishing 13 years ago because I had no other option, I never went to school. But it has brought me good money,” he said.

‘Unsustainable fishing practices’

By sunset, the balls of fishing net lay stretched out on the beach and both buyers and fishermen negotiate prices.

Traders take their purchases in buckets to makeshift reed tables to be dried, smoked, fried or boiled in preparation for the market.

“Declining fish catches are mainly due to unsustainable fishing practices,” said Sosten Chiotha, a Malawian environmental science professor who works for the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) action group.

“Overfishing is a challenge in Lake Malawi [but] there are efforts on co-management and closed seasons to ensure that the fishery recovers.”

Chiotha added that climate change was hitting Malawi with “increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in the major ecosystems including lakes.”

That leaves Malawi’s agriculture-based economy sharply vulnerable to climatic events and entrenched poverty heightens pressure on the environment.

Wearing a black silk thawb robe and white kufi cap, Said stands tall on Senga beach, surveying the scene around him.

“I’m worried,” he said. “In Malawi most people depend on fishing financially and as a cheap food source.
“The men have to cast their nets further and further away from the beach.” (VOA)