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Our changing oceans | Guest View

 

Last updated 5/25/2022 at 10:42am



Ours is a water planet. Seventy percent is ocean and, when seen from space, we are a blue-and-white marble.

What happens in the oceans is important to us land dwellers – and not just for giving us canned, hard-smoked, Quinault sockeye, one of the finest eating experiences on the planet.

We hear a lot about how important forests are for storing carbon and producing oxygen. But ocean marine plankton is where 70% of earth’s oxygen comes from. The oceans are also better at capturing carbon than the land – they hold 80% of it.

The oceans absorb most of the sun’s radiation energy. The land and air also store some heat, but the amounts are small compared to the oceans. Heat is transported around the globe with massive current systems.

In general, these currents help moderate air temperature by moving warm water north and cool water south. Without these currents, air temperatures would be more extreme, and less of the earth would be habitable.

For these and many other reasons, ocean health is critical to our health. This is especially true for Mukilteans, being on the doorstep of that biggest of all oceans, the Pacific. It helps moderate our weather and brings us nine months of those beautiful drippy, drizzly days.

The important water mover for us is the North Pacific current. It transports water across the ocean in a straight line pointed right at the western U.S. coast. When it hits the continental shelf, it splits into the Alaska and California currents. One goes north and the other goes south.

This current split is part of the reason the Gulf of Alaska is one of the world’s most productive areas and why those Quinault sockeye turn north when they leave Washington to feed and grow.

One effect of global warming is the weakening of some of these ocean currents and the strengthening of others.

This will have significant impacts on sea life and on world weather patterns. How the North Pacific and Alaska currents will change is not certain, but that they will change is certain.

Other changes are going on in the oceans. Excess carbon dioxide in the air is dissolving into seawater and forming carbonic acid. This process alters the pH of the oceans. They have become 30% more acidic over the last 200 years.

One of the most clearly understood effects of this higher ocean ac-

idity is that animals that make hard shells, like oysters and corals, are less able to build and maintain them.

Another frequently discussed impact of our thickening greenhouse gas blanket is water levels. A hotter earth makes this happen in two ways. One is the melting of massive ice sheets, where most fresh water is stored.

The other is that warm water is bigger than cold water. It expands slightly when heated but this small effect is big because the oceans are big.

New NOAA predictions are that we could see 3 feet of sea level rise here by the end of the century. This will change our waterfront and be very expensive, but we will survive. Other places around the world will not.

World Ocean Day is June 8. The theme this year is “Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean.”

For more information about our changing oceans: bit.ly/3wulURe.

 

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