Imminent Global Ocean Tipping Points: Ocean Warming, Acidification, and Deoxygenation

Paul Beckwith

Published on Apr 3, 2021

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The ocean is a giant reservoir for heat and dissolved carbon. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the oceans have taken up about 30 – 40% of the total CO2 emitted by humanity, as well as roughly 93% of the heat added to our planet from global warming. There is a huge cost to the oceans, with the heating we are getting much higher marine temperatures throughout the water column, and with the added CO2 we are getting ocean acidification. There are a myriad of consequences for marine biochemistry, geochemistry, and for all ocean life, including the loss of oxygen dissolved in the water.

I chat mostly about the key points in the new peer-reviewed scientific paper titled “The Quiet Crossing of Ocean Tipping Points”, namely that the most imminent problems are ocean warming, ocean acidification, and ocean deoxygenation. In many of my videos I talk about extreme weather events increasing greatly in frequency, severity, and duration and we are also seeing this in extreme ocean “weather” events, for example marine heat waves, coastal hypoxia, and ocean acidification events linked to strong upwelling episodes. The paper emphasizes that the ocean warming, acidification, and deoxygenation are all high-probability, high-impact ocean tipping points in the oceans physical, chemical, and biological systems. Although often fragmented both regionally and in time, the cumulative compounding effects really affect the entire ocean. The ocean tipping elements exhibit the characteristics of threshold, highly nonlinear behaviour, bifurcation, regime shifts, and system reorganization associated with math theory on tipping points.

I also touch on some of the grave consequences of ocean tipping points, including coral reef bleaching, phytoplankton loss at the base of the marine food web, ocean plastics, ocean currents weakening and switching, ocean stratification reducing vertical mixing with depth, sea surface temperatures going much higher than the 26.5C threshold for powering stronger, larger, more rapidly intensifying hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclone tropical storms. Warmer oceans do not hold as much dissolved gas, so with less oxygen in the water, and stressed ecosystems, we are getting large species migrations from lower latitudes to higher latitudes. The deoxygenation in the Gulf of Mexico that has been caused mostly by excessive nutrient runoff from rivers has created so called ocean dead zones for many years. More concerning is that we are now getting deoxygenation in many parts of the open ocean, most notably in the low latitude Pacific Ocean.

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