Let that sink in for a moment. More than a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) metric tons of ice—one of the largest icebergs in history—just broke free from Antarctica.
This is one of many signs of how drastically this ecosystem is changing. The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly-warming places on earth, and the crack that caused the iceberg has been forming for years. The New York Times warned that “the Antarctic Peninsula may be a canary in a coal mine” when it comes to the long-lasting impacts of climate change.
Science has predicted the massive implications of climate change for decades. But it’s one thing to rely on models with all their complexity and uncertainty. It is another thing entirely to watch, in real time, as ice collapses into the sea.
In a time of unpreceded environmental change, the health of our ocean is more important than ever. The ocean has absorbed more than half of all the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. That means that without the ocean as a buffer, the worst impacts of climate change would already be devastating for all of us, regardless of where we live.
But increasing carbon emissions are taking their toll on the ocean as well. Warming ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification are affecting our ocean, its wildlife and our coastal communities right now. In fact, we’re changing the ocean’s acidity 50 times faster than ever before.
And the real problem is how unpredictable these impacts are. We know how ocean acidification—the increase of ocean acidity due to excessive carbon emissions—is affecting shellfish and coral. We know that climate change is warming the Arctic and Antarctic at unprecedented rates. But what we don’t fully understand yet is how acidification and other changes—like increasing temperatures and decreasing levels of oxygen—interact and respond together.
These impacts aren’t always just additive—they’re often interactive, meaning the resulting effect can sometimes be much greater than the sum of the individual stressors. And this poses an even bigger problem for our ocean.
If we want to prepare for the future and find solutions, we need to understand how all these ocean stressors, like pollution, overfishing, development, acidification and climate change will interact together.
Now more than ever, we need to find adaptive approaches that incorporate ocean climate change information into science, policy and management decisions at all scales.
Better understanding our ocean’s future means we will be better prepared for whatever comes next. And all of us here at Ocean Conservancy are working hard to ensure a healthy, productive ocean for us and all the inhabitants that call it home.
Today, we watched a historically large iceberg break off into the sea. This should be a wakeup call to massively accelerate the global transition to a fossil fuel free future.
Our ocean depends on it.