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Must-read article on ocean impacts by ocean scientists

Posted on 12 July 2010 by John Cook

I highly recommend everyone read this great article by coral reef and oceanography experts, John Bruno and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. The article is In the oceans, the heat is really on, published at Here are a few excerpts but don't use them as an excuse not to read the full article. Here's one putting the Gulf oil spill into perspective:

The world is saturated by coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the impacts of this tragedy are localized, short-term and trivial compared to the broader effects of climate change. The oil spill has damaged the lives and businesses of many innocent people. Remarkably, however, every day we are releasing several thousand times as much carbon as the Gulf spill by driving, flying and consuming and by heating and cooling our energy-inefficient houses. Hundreds of years from now, when BP is forgotten and the gulf wetlands have healed, ocean life will still be affected by the fossil fuels we are burning today.

I don't see this as diminishing the devastating impact of the oil spill. It brings home to me the strong visual impact of the oil spill hence the strong public reaction. Climate change is not so easy to process visually, dealing in long-term trends and impacts that stretch on decades and centuries into the future. At the talk on climate change at the University of Qld, Ove explained the problem with climate change was it's like littering and the litter not turning up until a decade later. The irony is the impacts from our CO2 emissions will dwarf the impacts of the oil spill.

One value of the Gulf spill is that it has highlighted how tightly coupled the health of ecosystems and human economic well-being really are. In retrospect, the costs of preventing the spill by installing more reliable safety systems are paltry in comparison to the economic losses in the tourism and fisheries sectors. The same is true for mitigating climate change. Responses that cost less than 1 percent of GDP growth over the next few decades are matched against massive impacts on people and industry, especially in coastal areas of the world.

Here's another example where the oil spill can teach us a thing or two about how a relatively small investment now will stave off great expenses into the future. Anyway, there were a few other highlights I would like to excerpt but just go read the article.

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. It is unfortunate that the authors of this article still repeat the long since abandoned target of under 450ppm. They also do not mention the effect on the planet's oxygen supply which ocean acidification will probably cause if it kills off oxygen generating phytoplankton. (I've also added this comment to the original article.)
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    Response: Re oxygen, I'd hazard to guess John and Ove were doing the same thing I tend to do with my articles lately - hit the broad points and let the nitty gritty come out in the comments. In science writing, it's tempting to throw everything in there but effective communication requires you discipline yourself to the major points lest your message get diluted with too many details.
  2. Two more links from these two scientists written for the general public: John F. Bruno: The Impact of Climate Change on the World's Marine Ecosystems Ocean changes may have dire impacts on people - UQ News Online - The University of Queensland Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences Selden, NY Global Warming: Man or Myth? My Global Warming Blog Twitter: AGW_Prof "Global Warming Fact of the Day" Facebook Group
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  3. Nobody seems to be linking to the Science articles (18 JUNE 2010 VOL 328, ISSUE 5985, PAGES 1437-1598)
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  4. apeescape #3 Thanks, I was going to ask for that.
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  5. (linked from original paper) SeaWiFS data show increase in chlorophyl in the oceans which links to loss of primary production. Polovina, J.J., Howell, E.A., Abecassis, M. (2008). Ocean's least productive waters are expanding. Geophysical Research Letters, 35(3) DOI: 10.1029/2007GL031745 Though more data is needed. Henson, S. A.; Sarmiento, J. L.; Dunne, J. P.; Bopp, L.; Lima, I.; Doney, S. C.; John, J.; Beaulieu, C. Detection of anthropogenic climate change in satellite records of ocean chlorophyll and productivity. Biogeosciences 7 (2010): 621-640, doi:10.5194/bg-7-621-2010.
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  6. The cause of rising temperatures and acid levels in the ocean can be attributed to the explosions in the deep sea bed of methane hydrates. They are recognized as the cause of mud volcanoes; the methane leaks through them, oxidizng ultimately to CO 2, using a lot of oxygen in the process. A long the oxidizing way it converts to formalin and water. Formalin is not very good for sea life and water raises sea levels an evaporation rates to our atmosphere. In the air it converts to formaldehyde and water vapor, again contributing to Global Warming. M
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  7. PatriciaW: I am curious why you say "It is unfortunate that the authors of this article still repeat the long since abandoned target of under 450ppm" Because it is too high, too low, unrealistic or because you don't agree with the idea of setting a limit of ppm goal? Also, that is a pretty sweeping statement you make... Also, I don't know of science predicting acidification will kill off phytoplankton. Some that secrete calcarious shells will suffer, but overall it is unclear how climate change will affect primary production (and I don't think falling atmospheric O2 levels are a problem). On the one hand, reducing mixing and upwelling appear to be reducing production in some places. On the other hand, warming and increased CO2 conc. should/will stimulate photosynthesis and primary production. Although, it gets even more complicated than that, as warming also stimulates animal metabolism, to an even greater degree, thus, we think we will be seeing more grazing of phytoplankton and reduced phytoplankton standing stock, but this would obviously increase net ocean photosynthesis. Ill do a complete post on this soon... andthorne: you are wrong. this is baloney. apeescape: an increase in chlorophyl in the oceans should actually be interpreted as an increase in primary production (although it is a bit less straightforward than that). I am unfamiliar with those papers... - John B PS: Sorry the Science papers are not publicly available.
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  8. andthorne - that's a fascinating analysis. Sadly, I haven't seen any evidence for large scale increasing formaldehyde levels or sub-sea seismic activity - do you have any evidence for your hypothesis of deep sea methane hydrate explosions??? That's one of the more entertaining alternative theories I've heard so far... and I agree with John B that it's baloney.
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  9. oops, John B, you're right. Somehow I read that wrong, and I'm obviously not an expert. BTW, if you search for the titles of the papers, there should be links to the pdf.
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  10. Surprised the article does not mention the effects of increased absorption of CO2 creating carbonic acid, particularly in cooler seawater. These cause depletion of aragonite and other material on which calcifying marine life depends for production of protective shells. This is known to threaten a major marine food source, Pteropods (Thecosomata). Such a wide variety of fish depend on them as their main source of nourishment and consume them in such vast numbers that they have been appropriately described by Dr. Hoffmann (University of California) as ‘chips of the sea’. Extinction of Pteropods is likely with increased absorption of CO2 and their loss may well threaten marine life which depend on them and, ultimately, humans who depend on marine life as a major source of protein. While the presence of CO2 does stimulate seagrass growth, providing an enhanced nursery for some marine life, its ability to form carbonic acid poses a threat to corals which provide such an important environment for a wide variety of marine life. The loss of coral reefs endangers marine life on which humans depend.
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  11. This article just highlights the fact that scientists are not always the objective beings they should be. They like the rest of us have the right to make whatever comment they wish but this article has nothing to do with science or them being scientists. Just on one line in the article. "We all call this man-made catastrophe "global warming" or "climate change" Which catastrophe? I don't see any catastrophe. There may be some future imagined catastrophe but there certainly isn't anything of the such at the moment. It's the fact that such casual alarmism is allowed to pass unnoticed that really worries me.
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    Response: "Which catastrophe? I don't see any catastrophe."

    When I first met with John and Ove earlier this year, they showed me some of the peer-reviewed research into global warming impacts on ocean ecosystems and the ripple effect that is affecting humanity. Some of it was their own research. I hadn't even heard of some of the impacts they were researching and it was sobering stuff. I would suggest reading into their research and the impacts of global warming on the ocean before pronouncing their comments as "casual alarmism". My first post on the subject was Ocean Acidification: global warming's evil twin followed by Earth's five mass extinction events. Unfortunately these only scratch the surface - I would like to go deeper into the peer-reviewed literature but finding the time is tough.
  12. "Which catastrophe? I don't see any catastrophe." -- Famous last words.
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  13. BTW, you may freely download the Science article by the authors here: I agree with John, the catastrophe is right around the corner. I am working on my Impacts page and just finished Ecosystems of Oceans and Shallow Seas to be published online later. Very disturbing what we are causing now and likely into the future. For example, Silverman et al. (2009) suggest that by the time atmospheric CO2 concentrations reach 560 ppm all coral reefs will cease to grow and will start to dissolve. This cannot be taken lightly. Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences Selden, NY Global Warming: Man or Myth? My Global Warming Blog Twitter: AGW_Prof "Global Warming Fact of the Day" Facebook Group
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