Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Climate change and our oceans

In this video, Dr Bryce Stewart explains how our oceans are heating up and becomng more acidic, with serious consequences.
The effects of climate change on our planet have never been higher profile. But how often do you hear the people marching in the streets talking about the ocean? Due it’s sponge-like, heat absorbing properties, the ocean is actually helping control climate change. But in doing so the temperature of our seas increased by almost 1 degree Celcius over the past century. This might not sound like much, but the ocean and its inhabitants are very sensitive to temperature change. Many marine species, including fish, shellfish and turtles, have changed their distribution and movement patterns. In general, species are moving towards the poles, leaving tropical areas worst affected. The implications for fisheries and food security are dramatic and are already causing political conflict.
Due to the excess heat, coral reefs are also bleaching and dying on a global scale. Unfortunately, higher temperatures are not the only effect of greenhouse gases. Up to a third of the extra CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, causing it to become more acidic – almost 30% more than it was in the pre-industrial age. This makes it difficult for calcium based species such shellfish, corals and certain algae to form their hard shells and skeletons, while dissolving those that already exist. Such ocean acidification is sometimes called the ‘evil twin’ of the greenhouse effect, given its potential to devastate ocean ecosystems in the future.
Of course climate change will also bring physical effects – sea level rise, increased storminess and changes to ocean currents, all with further negative effects on marine species. So what can we do? The straight forward answer is - reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, but in the meantime we can mitigate some of these effects. Improved and more co-operative fisheries management should stabilise fish stocks, while marine protected areas can increase the resilience of marine ecosystems. It is hoped that such measures will bide us enough time to make the more dramatic societal changes that are really needed.

In this video, Dr Bryce Stewart explains how our oceans are heating up and becomng more acidic, with serious consequences for sea life and for humans alike.

What can be done? Dr Stewart outlines the solution.

This article is from the free online

Tackling Environmental Challenges for a Sustainable Future

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education