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This paper examines the impact climate change has on oceans based on data and research. It focuses on how sea level rises, pollution of plastic, and ocean acidification have affected our daily lifestyle and how marine animals are deeply affected by our actions. This paper highlights the dangers of living this lifestyle and suggests ways to combat this important issue. Until we decide ourselves that we want a change, then our planet will continue to suffer because of our actions. Doing simple things like walking or driving electric cars, reducing fossil fuel, and making your lifestyle energy efficient can significantly slow down climate change.
Climate Change in Oceans and its Impacts: Improving the Quality of Life With the rise of human capacity and carbon emissions produced; our planet is facing a global climate change crisis. Through world history class at Piedmont Hills High School, I have research material on my topic of climate change in oceans for sea level rise, plastic pollution, and ocean acidification. According to NASA and the NOAA, climate change seems to affect oceans the most because of its ability to absorb heat and carbon dioxide, which eventually causes sea levels to rise, oceans to acidify, and corals to bleach.
How it works
Five visible evidence that climate change is affecting oceans is coral bleaching, migration of fish, drowning wetlands, ocean acidification, and the reduction of sulfur. Since carbon emissions are the main problem with climate change, our solution to slowing down climate change lies in reducing carbon dioxide. This paper will focus on sea level rise and its impacts, plastic pollution in oceans, and ocean acidification and coral bleaching.
As we continue to expand, we increase our carbon footprints, causing climate change to happen at a faster rate. When we burn fuel, use transportation services, and breath we emit carbon dioxide. Though, it does not sound like much when you take into account everyone on earth we emit dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide than what the earth originally had. Even though humans are not hugely affected yet, the ocean seems to be suffering the most from our actions. To understand the complexity of sea level rising there are two main causes one being thermal expansion and the second being carbon emissions. Thermal expansion is the process in which ice sheets or glacier melts causing the ocean to expand, thus, rising. The biggest contribution to ocean levels rising is the accumulation of heat-trapping GHG (greenhouse gases), due to oceans absorbing 90% of heat-trapping GHG. As a result of thermal expansion, the water volume rises at a rapid pace; “the estimated rate of thermal expansion between 1971 to 2010 is 0.4 to 0.8 millimeters per year” (Understanding Sea Level Causes, 2016, para 4).
Since oceans are absorbing carbon emissions, it causes the rate of acceleration in sea levels to increase because carbon melts ice sheet which makes the sea level rise. Considering the fact that thermal expansion is only possible with GHG, we can immediately assume that the biggest culprit in sea level rise is carbon dioxide. With, scientists observing instability in ocean temperatures we are very well convinced that they have collected statistics and data proving climate change in oceans. There is proven evidence that the sea has risen 8 inches since the beginning of the 20th century, and the rise in sea level has also claimed five islands in the Pacific.
Ice sheets melting near the poles are most critical in sea level rises and Greenland continues to be the biggest contributor to melting ice sheets. Research has shown that the ice sheets melting have grown from 0.09 millimeters each year between 1992 to 2001(Understanding Sea Level Causes, 2018, para 1). Current findings imply that ice loss contributed nearly half an inch to the sea level between 2003 to 2007, ice has contributed 75 to 80 percent to the increase in that period (Sea Level Rise and Global Warming, 2014, N.D, para 6). Studies conducted in 2014 have shown that Greenland has lost 303 gigatons of ice while Antarctica lost 118 gigatons. “For the past 20 years, the Solomon Islands have been a hotspot for sea-level rise. Here the sea has risen at almost three times the global average, around 7-10 mm per year since 1993 (Sea-level rise has claimed five whole islands in the Pacific, 2016, para 7).” Some of the many devastating effects that rising sea levels can considerably affect coastal habitats are coastal erosions, wetland floodings, contamination, and even destruction of what animals call home.
Without a doubt plastic pollution is getting out of hand, when they are not in landfills, they usually end up in oceans. The severity of plastic pollution is rapidly increasing because 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris are in the ocean, and the consequences it has on marine life. Except for the small quantity of plant-based plastic, common plastics are made from a fossil fuel like oil and gas can discharge harmful toxins. Actions such as drilling put pollutants like carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and others into the air. Gases such as methane gas, which can be expelled during production can cause more harmful greenhouse effects than carbon dioxide (Plastic Pollution and Climate Change, 2015, para 12). Studies showed that methane gas is eighty-four times more toxic than carbon dioxide, and one of the reasons why it is more deadly to release methane gas rather than carbon dioxide is because of how efficiently they absorb heat.
One of the reasons why methane is listed as a greenhouse gas is because of its ability to absorb heat and warm the atmosphere which ends up warming oceans. Almost 25% of the global warming we are experiencing today is from man-made methane gas emissions which can come from the oil and gas industry. About 5% of petroleum is used to make plastic; it is estimated that by 2050, 20% of petroleum yield will be used for plastic (The Top 7 Things You Need to Know About Plastic Pollution, 2017, para 2).
About 12 million barrels of oil are used to make 30 million plastic bags each year when we use plastic bags they are not only wasteful, but they contribute to the unnecessary amount of carbon dioxide buildup in our atmosphere. The carbon footprint of a disposable plastic bottle is 82.8 grams of carbon and humans use 563 billion of disposable plastic bottles each year. This adds to the fact that there is an undeniably significant amount of plastic in oceans, not to mention that plastic takes a long time to break down. Evidence shows that marine animals who help in absorbing our carbon dioxide are being harmed by plastic pollution because it is getting in their way of absorbing CO2. Marine animals such as the lanternfish are responsible for reducing human-made carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere by 20%-35%. Any potential threats to the lanternfish such as plastic pollution can affect the reducing of CO2 emissions. Evidence found in plastic pollution can possess trouble for marine life and climate change (Plastics in oceans have a substantial effect on climate, 2017, para 4).
Having plastic in oceans poses a threat to fishes because many fish can suffocate from accidentally ingesting plastic or can even be poisoned by plastic. When, marine animals eat plastic, the toxins released in plastic can be toxic to the animals, and humans sometimes consume these contaminated sea creatures. Plastic pollution studies have shown that when plastic pollution affects sea animals’ diets, humans are likely to ingest compounds in plastic which have been proven to alter hormones. Many people speculate that islands such as Midway (Atoll island) will completely vanish by rising sea waters before plastic decays. Eight percent of yearly oil production comes from manufacturing plastic.
The Environmental Protection Agency also known as the EPA estimated that about five ounces of CO2 are released for each ounce of polyethylene terephthalate commonly known as PET (Plastic Pollution and Climate change, 2015, para 13). The average time it takes for a disposable plastic bottle to decompose is about 450 years while other types of plastics such as plastic bags can take up to 1000 years. Many people prefer disposable plastic over reusable items for their own convenience; however, sacrificing plastic straws for metal straw can be a small but a beneficial step towards reducing plastic pollution. From plastic to sea, to animals, to humans, it is a chain that is difficult to break, especially with 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris.
Ocean Acidification and Coral Bleaching Since the 1760s, ocean acidity has increased to about 30 percent. This is the result of human-made carbon emissions, which are being absorbed into oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by oceans is expanding to about 2 billion tons per year (Climate Change: How do we know?, 2018, para 14). Some may be wondering what rising acidity can do to the ocean and the damages have been fairly high. As the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide the higher the pH or the acidity level will get, hence, the word ocean acidification. As these corals health deteriorate at a rapid pace they are unable to absorb enough calcium carbonate to maintain their skeletons (How does climate change affect coral reefs?, N.D., para 5).
Since ocean acidification affects the corals skeleton it is no surprise that acidification also affects shell animals. Animals such as sea snails and clams also have a harder time absorbing enough calcium carbonate. These calcium-based sea creatures who are vulnerable to acidification provide a habitat for fishes, food for predators, and a barrier for storms and erosions (How will ocean acidification impact marine life, 2015, para 2). Base on my reasoning if shell animals and corals can absorb enough calcium carbonate then their immune system will slowly fail, growth will fall short, reproduction will be reduced, and chances of survival are low.
With an increase in acidity, many shells slowly dissolve into the ocean and the overall living conditions for these animals are no longer the same. Acidity matters in the ocean ecosystem because it takes away the most basic elements that animals need to survive. Acidity plays a role in the ocean because with a drop the ocean is capable of facing the imminent danger that affects growth, reproduction, and the ocean’s chemistry. Since oceans have been getting warmer corals are under stress since they are delicate to temperature change.
If the water is too warm for several weeks, then, zooxanthellae, the thing corals depend on for food, leave their tissue. Without their food, corals turn white, this is a sign that the coral is unhealthy as they are prone to diseases now (How does climate change affect coral reefs?, N.D., para 2). If a coral reef goes under coral bleaching it does not necessarily mean that the coral is dead, however, if the effect is prolonged than we can expect that the coral will die. However, there have been some cases where coral reefs have recovered, but now they are put under more stress after experiencing it.
If the ocean does not go back to its original state we can expect to see more coral bleaching than what is occurring right now. Even though coral reefs do not make up a large percentage of mass in the oceans their importance is expressed through their ability to shelter many animals, support fishing industries, and protect shorelines. Changes in coral communities also affect the many species that depend on them for food and shelter, in addition to being food and shelter without them, there would be a decrease in genetic and biodiversity. When coral bleaching happens many species will lose their source of food and protection, meaning that the tourist industry will be at stake and with that many coastal communities will lose protection coral reefs once provided.
To sum everything up, the ocean ecosystem is at a risk because of rising sea levels, plastic pollution, and ocean acidification along with coral bleaching. Due to our man-made greenhouse gases, our oceans are taking the consequences of our actions. With these negative effects on the ocean, we will lose many things we once took for granted such as the beautiful coral reefs, clean oceans, and many other things.
Carbon dioxide is a general enemy of climate change because oceans absorb so much CO2 the ocean is susceptible to heat, with the continuation of greenhouse gases our lifestyle will change just as dramatically as the ocean. Since we have not taken any huge measures to reduce the production of greenhouse gases the level of acceleration will keep climbing up. We cannot change until we decide to change, so doing simple things like walking or driving electric cars, reducing fossil fuel, and making your lifestyle energy efficient can significantly slow down climate change.
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