When people think of climate change, pictures of melting glaciers, sweltering heat in summers and flooding of coastal areas predominate. Often lost in the imagery is the role the world's oceans play in countering the worst effects of global warming.
Although oceans and seas cover more than two-thirds of the earth's surface, they are taken for granted most of the time. They are rich in resources and provide us with food, energy and minerals. As a result, the so-called 'freedom of the seas' means the high seas are exploited by everyone! We forget, ignore or perhaps don't understand, that the oceans are crucial for the stability of the planetary climate and local weather and that due to overfishing, loss of biodiversity and ocean pollution, the future of this unique ecosystem faces a grave threat.
It is well known that global warming is mainly caused by the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels like coal and oil. Since industrialisation in the 19th century, the amount of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere has risen by as much as 40 pc and if it were not for the oceans, temperatures would be even higher because they absorb a quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the air. When the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises, oceans absorb more to restore the balance. The colder the seawater is, the more effectively the process works.
It is in this context that mapping of the oceans on various parameters that affect human life is of great importance. Germany's Heinrich Böll Foundation has recently released the latest in a series of global environmental reference works called the Ocean Atlas: Facts and Figures on the Threats to Our Marine Ecosystems 2017.
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