Global warming evidence

Someone said that gaining information from the internet is like drinking water from a fire hose. There’s certainly been a tidal wave of reports about the effects of global climate change on our oceans.

But however axiomatic it might be to marine scientists that scientific evidence, published in peer-reviewed journals, is the base on which such statements should be made, it is worth being reminded in the light of highly polemical statements in the media fuelled more by ideology than evidence.

With oceans covering approximately 71 per cent of the earth’s surface, it is extraordinary that we know about only a small fraction of this. For example, although nearly 240,000 species are known about (although some of them have only been named) in our seas and oceans, expert estimates exist of up to two million in total.

The world’s oceans are the principal component of the hydrosphere and are thus an important component in climate and weather patterns and the control of CO2 in the atmosphere. Doing science in a marine context has thus never been more important, although this science must be transferred meaningfully into policy.

Perceptions garnered from the media play their part. As reported recently, a significant reason for some denying global warming, at least in the US, is a profound distrust of climate scientists, fuelled by the right-wing media.

But the authors concluded that scientists who are proactively en­gaging the public “may lead some members of the public to view scientists as increasingly politicised”. A case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. Such political polarisation is contributing to national climate change policy paralysis in the US. But what do scientists themselves believe?

A survey of scientific papers showed that not a single scientist rejected the consensus position that global warming is caused by humans. The Skeptical science website, where these surveys are reported, talks of how scientific consensus is not a political one: “There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer.”

2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record, according to the peer-reviewed State of the Climate in 2012, published at the beginning of August by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). With scientists from the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as its lead editors, the report provided details on global climate changes, including the fact that 2012 also saw the highest-ever-recorded global sea level rises.

September then saw the release of the fifth scientific report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which highlighted the importance of the marine environment to the well-being of inhabitants of the earth.

In October, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)/IUCN review of science on anthropogenic stressors on the ocean goes “beyond the conclusion reached [by the IPCC] that the ocean is absorbing much of the warming and unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide and warn(s) that the cumulative impact of this with other ocean stressors is far graver than previous estimates”. The findings are published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Prof. Alex Rogers of Somerville College, Oxford, and scientific director of IPSO, said: “The health of the ocean is spiralling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought.

“We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated. The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on earth.”

Bob Carling is editor of Marine Scientist.


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