By Sarah Parsons and Liz Saccoccia
World Oceans Day is a prime time to look at the state of the seas. Thanks to a growing pile of data and scientific studies, we know more about the ocean today than we ever knew before.
Data also enables us to look into the future and see what may be in store for marine ecosystems. Four maps paint a picture:
The Ocean Is Already Feeling the Effects of Climate Change
The ocean has already experienced tremendous change in recent years due to climate change.
Data reveals climate-induced impacts to marine ecosystems from 1980-2014, looking at changes in sea surface temperatures, ocean productivity and currents. While all regions of the world experienced at least some degree of oceanic change, the largest changes can be seen in areas with high biodiversity, especially in the North Atlantic Ocean off the U.S., Canadian and northern European coasts.
Coral Bleaching to Become More Severe
When ocean temperatures get too warm, it can cause coral reefs to expel their colorful algae and sometimes die, an event known as bleaching. Bleaching is already a problem for coral reefs and the millions of people they support by providing fish, storm protection and tourism revenue. Bleaching is poised to worsen significantly if emissions continue unabated and increase water temperatures.
Data from WRI looks at the expected frequency of coral bleaching events in 2030 and 2050. By 2030 roughly half the world’s corals will likely experience extreme bleaching—by 2050, almost all of them will.
Sea Level Rise to Inundate Coasts
Scientists predict seas to rise up to 2 meters by 2100 if the world continues producing emissions at its current clip.
Data from Climate Central maps areas of the world vulnerable to coastal flooding and sea level rise. Explore in the map above how this amount of sea level rise would affect the area where you live.
Fisheries Around the World Vulnerable to Warmer Waters
The Fishery Vulnerability Index assesses how much countries’ commercial fishing operations will be harmed if emissions continue along a business-as-usual trajectory. The Index factors in changes in sea temperatures, along with countries’ economic dependence on fishing and their capacity to adapt to change.
Many countries’ fisheries are threatened by climate change, mainly those in Africa and Southeast Asia. The 10 most vulnerable countries include: Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Maldives, Vanauatu, Samoa, Mozambique, China, Sierra Leone and Tuvalu.
A Time for Change
Of course these data are just projections—a snapshot of what’s to come if the world continues on its high-emissions pathway. Phasing down greenhouse gases today could prevent these crises of tomorrow. The ocean—and the $2.5 trillion in goods and services it provides to the world every year—depend on it.