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The Ocean And Its Climate Crisis

Globally, fishing is a $140 billion to $150 billion business annually

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

To stand at the edge of an ocean is to face an eternity of waves and water, a shroud covering seven-tenths of the Earth.

Hidden below are mountain ranges and canyons that rival anything on land. There you will find the Earth’s largest habitat, home to billions of plants and animals — the vast majority of the living things on the planet.

In this little-seen world, swirling super-highway currents move warm water thousands of miles north and south from the tropics to cooler latitudes, while cold water pumps from the poles to warmer climes.

Ocean
Artisanal fishing boats moored in the harbor at Nouadhibou, the main port in Mauritania. VOA

It is a system that we take for granted as much as we do the circulation of our own blood. It substantially regulates the Earth’s temperature, and it has been mitigating the recent spike in atmospheric temperatures, soaking up much of human-generated heat and carbon dioxide. Without these ocean gyres to moderate temperatures, the Earth would be uninhabitable.

In the last few decades, however, the oceans have undergone unprecedented warming. Currents have shifted. These changes are for the most part invisible from land, but this hidden climate change has had a disturbing impact on marine life — in effect, creating an epic underwater refugee crisis.

Reuters has discovered that from the waters off the East Coast of the United States to the coasts of West Africa, marine creatures are fleeing for their lives, and the communities that depend on them are facing disruption as a result.

ocean, fish, sardines
A fisherman unloads sardines at the port in Matosinhos, Portugal. VOA

As waters warm, fish and other sea life are migrating poleward, seeking to maintain the even temperatures they need to thrive and breed. The number of creatures involved in this massive diaspora may well dwarf any climate impacts yet seen on land.

In the U.S. North Atlantic, for example, fisheries data show that in recent years, at least 85 percent of the nearly 70 federally tracked species have shifted north or deeper, or both, when compared to the norm over the past half-century. And the most dramatic of species shifts have occurred in the last 10 or 15 years.

Fish have always followed changing conditions, sometimes with devastating effects for people, as the starvation that beset Norwegian fishing villages in past centuries when the herring failed to appear one season will attest. But what is happening today is different: The accelerating rise in sea temperatures, which scientists primarily attribute to the burning of fossil fuels, is causing a lasting shift in fisheries.

The changes below the surface are not an academic matter.

Ocean, lobster
Lindsay Copeland Frazier holds lobsters caught on her father’s boat in Stonington, Maine. VOA

Globally, fishing is a $140 billion to $150 billion business annually, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, and in some parts of the world, seafood accounts for half of the average person’s diet. But the effects of this mass migration in the world’s ocean are also much more intimate than that.

From lobstermen in Maine to fishermen in North Carolina, livelihoods are at stake. For sardine-eating Portuguese and seafood-loving Japanese, cultural heritages are at risk. And a burgeoning aquaculture industry, fueled in part by the effects of climate change, is decimating traditional fishing in West Africa and destroying coastal mangrove swamps in Southeast Asia.

Also Read: 60 percent Wildlife Lost In Just Four Decades: Report

Reuters journalists have spent more than a year collecting their stories and little-reported data to bring you this series revealing the natural disaster unfolding beneath the whitecaps. (VOA)

Next Story

Diversifying Crops will Lighten Growing Climate Impact in India: Study

To reach this conclusion, the authors combined historical data on crop yields, temperature and rainfall

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diversifying crops, climate impact
"Expanding the area planted with these four alternative grains can reduce variations in Indian grain production caused by extreme climate, especially in the many places where their yields are comparable to rice. Wikimedia Commons

Diversifying the crops in India can be an effective way to adapt its food-production systems to the growing influence of extreme climate change, said US researchers including Indian-origin.

The team studied the effects of climate change on five major crops: finger millet, maize, pearl millet, sorghum and rice which make up the vast majority of grain production during the June-to-September monsoon season in India — with rice contributing three-quarters of the grain supply for the season.

Taken together, the five grains are essential for meeting India’s nutritional needs. In a paper published in Environmental Research Letters, Kyle Davis, environmental data scientist from the Data Science Institute at Columbia University found that the yields from grains such as millet, sorghum and maize are more resilient to extreme weather.

Their yields vary significantly less due to year-to-year changes in climate and generally experience smaller declines during droughts. But yields from rice, India’s main crop, experience larger declines during extreme weather conditions.

climate impact, diversifying crops
Their yields vary significantly less due to year-to-year changes in climate and generally experience smaller declines during droughts. Wikimedia Commons

“By relying more and more on a single crop — rice — India’s food supply is potentially vulnerable to the effects of varying climate,” said Davis, the lead author on the paper.

“Expanding the area planted with these four alternative grains can reduce variations in Indian grain production caused by extreme climate, especially in the many places where their yields are comparable to rice.

“Doing so will mean that the food supply for the country’s massive and growing population is less in jeopardy during times of drought or extreme weather,” he noted.

The co-authors on the paper are Ashwini Chhatre, Associate Professor at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad; Narasimha D. Rao, Assistant Professor at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Deepti Singh, Assistant Professor at Washington State University in Vancouver; and Ruth DeFries, University Professor of Ecology and Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

diversifying crops, climate impact
To reach this conclusion, the authors combined historical data on crop yields, temperature and rainfall. Wikimedia Commons

Temperatures and rainfall amounts in India vary from year-to-year and influence the amount of crops that farmers can produce.

With episodes of extreme climate such as droughts and storms becoming more frequent, it’s essential to find ways to protect India’s crop production from these shocks, according to Davis.

ALSO READ: Conflict and Climate Change Largely Responsible for Rising Global Hunger, Finds Study

To reach this conclusion, the authors combined historical data on crop yields, temperature and rainfall. Data on the yields of each crop came from state agricultural ministries across India and covered 46 years (1966-2011) and 593 of India’s 707 districts.

“This study adds to the evidence that increasing the production of alternative grains in India can offer benefits for improving nutrition, for saving water, and for reducing energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture,” said Davis. (IANS)