Oceans are Rising, Acidifying

The recent U.N. report on climate change paints a gloomy picture

| posted on April 03, 2014
The Maldives may sink beneath the waves entirely in decades to come. Photo: Joli

The Maldives may sink beneath the waves entirely in decades to come. Photo: Joli

The most comprehensive, authoritative report ever issued on the state of the planet’s climate was released on Monday, and the news is fairly grim.  After examining seven years of research, and compiling massive amounts of data, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that human-caused climate change has already caused “sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans.” Nearly 2,000 experts helped prepare the U.N. report, and the results were vetted by officials from more than 100 countries in recent days. The varied panel of governmental representatives means that the governments from big, rich, polluting nations, with a short-term financial interest in continuing to tip toe around serious environmental legislation (e.g. the U.S., China), had to agree with countries that either face more imminent climate-change related dangers, or that are historically more progressive when it comes to institutionalized sustainability. Translation: since such a broad swath of governments agreed with the findings, only the most rosy, conservative picture of climate change was painted, but that picture was still downright ugly.

From the polar regions to the tropics, the oceans as we’ve historically (and, hell, prehistorically) known them are in a state of serious flux. We’ve been aware for some time, for example, that sea ice is melting in the Arctic and the Antarctic, and that changes in the atmospheric carbon levels mean ocean acidification, but this report focused on not only what the results of such climate changes are likely to be, but also on which of those changes are already underway, and how they are likely to wreak havoc on human populations worldwide.

Sea levels are on the move, rising across the globe. With that rise comes an increase in coastal erosion and damage from powerful storm surges. This also means the very real threat of submergence, as low-lying coastal regions, both as parts of large land areas and islands, confront ever-rising oceans. “Without adaptation, hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding and will be displaced due to land loss by year 2100,” the report says. That year 2100 is significant, as the panel’s findings don’t bode well for low-lying coastal areas over the rest of this century—sea levels are projected to rise by an average of three feet. A rise of that significance would be very bad for: the Marshall Islands, Kiribati (which will likely vanish), Tonga, Tuvalu (also likely to be completely submerged), Micronesia, San Blas, Fiji, the Maldives…I could keep going.

The ocean level rise isn’t uniform across the globe either. While three feet is the expected average by 2100, certain parts of the world will, thanks to particular happenstances of geologic and bathymetric bad luck, will see much faster rises. The Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., for example, could experience a six-foot rise in sea surfaces over the next 100 years. New York, Boston, and Miami would be radically reshaped.

And it’s not just a perpetual rising tide. As the oceans suck in carbon dioxide from the earth’s increasingly polluted skies, they become increasingly acidic. That’s bad news for most ocean creatures, and particularly so for fragile coral reef systems. Expect a great deal more coral reef bleaching in decades to come, as the coral succumbs to warming ocean temperatures and toxic pH levels. The fish that depend on coral reef systems will soon vanish along with the vibrant color of their reef homes. This will be a drastic restructuring of a fishery that supports many tropical human populations that depend on seafood as an important part of their diet. A gradual warming of the seas is also screwing up the rest of the planet’s fisheries, as many species are tracking northward or southward to seek cooler water at the poles.

So the news was bad.

But the point of the report was to jumpstart the world’s governing bodies into addressing these problems. Many of the changes are looking well-nigh irreversible, though responsible choices about keeping the damage to as dull a roar as possible, and intelligent plans for adaptation to a quickly warming planet can help to mitigate potential future crises. There’s still time to change, in other words, though it needs to happen soon and at a much broader level than we’ve seen so far.

The ocean depends on it.

Read the full IPCC report here.


  • Nick Chagnon

    It’s a good thing we have surfer magazine leading the charge to fight climate change by selling us recycler board shorts and bamboo wetsuits. People like you dicks are the problem. The only way to stop this is to radically alter our economy, i.e. end consumerist-industrial capitalism.

    • Joseph Sterman

      I know, this article makes me want to get plastered

  • justin houswife

    This is garbage. Fear mongering of the first order. As everyone should know by now there has been no net warming of the world’s temperature in the past 15 years. The MetOffice in the UK has confirmed that fact.

    The models that the IPCC use have been proven wholly inaccurate, with 95% of them calling for warming temperatures from 1979 on and that simply has not happened.

    The only models that have been right are the very few that have forecasted steady or LOWER global temperatures.

    So with the IPCC’s core analysis down the toilet, they resort to scaring the public about irrational 6ft. rises in sea level to secure more (always more) government funding, targeting poor sods like Justin Housman who don’t know any better. Shame on you for perpetuating the shitstorm, stick to anastasia ashley please.

    • Big J

      Thanks for bringing a different angle. I hope you’re right Justin, I really hope so !

      • JEnglish

        Justin Housewife?? Oh well the name seems to imply all there is to say. Try reading the science on this. Opinions do not matter. Carbon atmospheres increase global heat- A FACT. Increasing carbon emissions adds to carbon atmospheres – CAUSAL. Developing countries – China #1, India #2, USA #3 have a high percentage of carbon emissions per capita. They also lead in over populating the planet – FACT. The lower initial temperatures are caused by ocean currents moving slower and not warming in normal areas. As climate gradients increase these currents become diverted and the normal ebb and flow of the effects start to go out of control. The initial effect is cooling. Then swings in weather. Wake up! Watch the weather, the wildlife, the waves – they are telling you something.

      • gannysesh
    • David B

      Wow. If you really are a housewife and have kids I really hope you remember your silly post. But then again, you could be getting paid to write negative comments like yours.
      Open your eyes and ears.
      If you don’t believe it then please go visit Miami for instance and check out how the county has to spend millions of dollars a year replenishing their beautiful shores with sand because they are all washing away.
      You might also notice that when it rains, the water reaches car door sills and sidewalks become useless anywhere along South of Fifth.
      I have live all my life in the coast and I see the changes.
      In a place like Miami, you just can’t say is not happening. I can keep going on but perhaps you have to get back to your Oprah reruns.

    • Systemic Change

      Hmm, I can either take your advice.. Or look to at the scientific studies of 95% of world renowned scientists working for the United Nations who have presented years worth of data showing that this climate threat is in fact true… In other words, you have no leverage in this discussion. Follow the money behind the studies that are deceiving you. Wake up fool.

    • Mike Sidebottom

      Let’s assume for a moment that you are a climate scientist. If so, you most likely:
      a) have studied for years to understand the processes by which the earth’s climate behaves,
      b) collect and analyze climate data from around the world,
      c) construct and modify climate models based on both historical and newly gathered data,
      d) publish findings and data from your research into climate-related trends,
      e) have your findings peer-reviewed by equally qualified professionals.

      Now assuming none of that is at all true, you should really consider keeping your armchair analyses to yourself and deferring to the experts (the people who actually have credentials and experience in, you know, monitoring and analyzing the climate) who overwhelmingly agree that our climate is changing and that the driving factor since the mid 19th century has been anthropogenic. I’m not a climate scientist, nor will I ever be, but just like I listen to my doctor or my lawyer because they are far more qualified to educate me about medicine or law, so do I defer to climate scientists because they are more qualified than I to educate me about the climate.

      However, feel free to remain an expert on Anastasia Ashley. I’m confident that no one will dispute your credentials in that field of study.

    • Systemic Change

      Hmm, I can either take your advice.. Or look to at the scientific
      studies of 95% of world renowned scientists working for the United
      Nations who have presented years worth of data showing that this climate
      threat is in fact true… In other words, you have no leverage in this
      discussion, and you’re a dumb ass. Follow the money behind the studies
      that are deceiving you and wake up fool.

    • Bruno

      Yeah, it’s pretty obvious the climate haven’t changed. We are not seeing huge droughts getting worse every year, we are not seeing unusual huge storms flooding entire cities across the globe. Just like we are not seeing sea temperature changes.

      I’m glad you are here to clear this up… we are all just overreacting and everything is fine. In fact countries like the US and China should increase their industrial arsenal, the world could use some more carbon dioxide.

    • Jeffrey Showalter

      The same “follow the money” rally that activists use when attacking the evil world of business is directly applicable to the climate change industry…yes, climate change has become an industry. So before we all freak out and turn the world’s economies upside down, lets take an honest look at the motivations behind the people generating and distributing these reports. Then reassess.

    • Daniel Schoeman

      So, you saying it’s business as usual? No worries?
      You are a classic internet user. U don’t care about the message, but about being “right”.
      How about this: No winners, let’s just try to be more responsible and to make this a better planet?
      Bet you don’t have a gf? Please answer.

    • Roy

      People like you are the ones who wait for CNN or FOX News to tell you the climate change is happening. #wakeup #sheep

  • dontneednochokebrain

    the implications of this, if we take it seriously, are not good at all. but some include no more flying around the world to surf waves. how many are willing to commit to that, to save our oceans? it also means no buying surfwear products shipped around the world. same here.

  • whamo

    Man is going to poison himself if this continues.

  • creedo94

    Im doing enviromental science in college and have been given a report to do based on this exact report by the ipcc, the report is made up by 356 of the worlds leading scientists and only one of them where against publishing it when it was finished , i can safely say the oceans and coastlines as we know them now will not be the same in 30 years and the water might possibly be inhabitable for many creatures and humans !

    • El

      do you mean uninhabitable? is this a serious college?

  • Danno

    You non-believers of this article are dumb and narrow minded. It is true the seas are rising, c02 is rising, temperatures are rising, acidity is rising as well as, the worst thing possible, radiation from a crippled, leaking tepco power plant in japan. We absolutely do not need to operate our world on fossil fuels and radioactive elements. Good thing there are people in this world that are smart, forward thinkers, unlike yourselves. I’d love to see the ignorant, selfish people of the world bred out. That’ll be the day. To the guy worried about not being able to fly to good surf spots, why don’t you paddle your dumbass to them.

    • El

      Keen to bring back eugenics are we? Oh hello Mr Hitler. “It is true that sea levels are rising” a fairly bold comment. Is it your job to go to every coast on the planet and take daily measurements?

  • gannysesh

    More on the implications of ocean acidification: phytoplankton are responsible for around 50% of photosynthesis on Earth. Algae is responsible for a lot, too. Acidification will result in the degradation of calcium carbonate phytoplankton.

  • El

    I’m sorry but this logically doesn’t make much sense. Ice has a greater volume than water, if sea ice melts then ocean levels will fall. The only issue is if permafrost melts (permanent ice that is above land) but most permafrost is a long way from the coast which would only result in flooding not a difference in ocean levels. Considering all land mass was once one joined continent, with one coast and considering a considerable part of all land was covered by giant glaciers how big of an impact can we be making? Enough to make palm trees grow on Alaska again? I doubt it.

  • Fish

    So in 100 years we will have some new surf spots, Kewl! But wave pools will take over too. What a future, so exciting, woo!

  • JJ

    I am all for reducing your “carbon footprint” but let’s be real about this. Remember when they were claiming Global Warming? Since that was debunked now they are calling it Climate Change. What will they call it next. It is all about money (raising taxes) and control over the people. Next they will be telling us where we can and cannot live. What we can drive and cannot drive. Trust me the last thing you want is some schmuck sitting in a building over in Europe or wherever dictating our lives. They want control of all the earth’s natural resources for them so they can line their pockets. Look up Agenda 21.

  • Raymond Del Colle

    “More extreme weather, rising seas, and escalating risks to our health. That’s what we can expect as climate change gets worse.”

  • Bang Bang Wake Up

    Having visited the East Coast near Miami and the houses on the coastline getting destroyed, having seen the erosion on the beaches in France for the last 40 years, and having experienced unusual storms the last winters, and I could keep going, I just cannot believe there are still people that actually think there is no climate change.

  • Craig Bradbury

    never trust a statist. read the NIPCC report

  • HilltopSurfer

    I am bemused by the fact that the deniers/skeptics more than likely, embrace modern technology that has been borne out of Science, but for some strange reason seem to baulk at the view of the majority of the world scientific community …… ie. that humans are affecting the Earth’s climate. I recently saw a video of people protesting against GMO’s in Hawaii – 11 time World Champion Surfer Kelly Slater was amongst the protesters. Because our sport/pastime/art revolves around being in a (HOPEFULLY) Clean Environment, Surfers should be at the forefront of people protesting for a quick divestment of fossil fuels; ……. NOT acting as mouthpieces for the fossil fuel fraternity.

  • Earth and Sky

    Using supply and demand of the composite good, water filtration, ie desalinisation, charcoal filtration, bleach and iodine, most bacteria (e.coli and salmanella) and depending on the flora and fauna of terrestrial regions, ocean adjacent land vs. landlocked where proven levels of iodine radiation allow less a half-life, carcenogens and resultant tumors, cancer e.g. Chrenobyl Russian worse off than Fukishimi Daiichi Japan. The proverbial steam shovel from government intervention might just make those water filters a best option through the long haul and positive aggregates for U.S. GDP.

  • Daddiosurfdude

    Climate change has been going on since the earth was created. Yes we as humans have had a negative impact on the environment. We need to each do what we can to make changes ourselves for our planet, but the truth is, how many of us are going to be around in 2100?? As long as big business and big government are pushing oil dependency nothing will change. Enjoy good surf where you can when you can… most good waves and surf spots have been screwed over by increasing crowds and changing coastlines for decades. So get over it.

  • Ron Dy

    to JustinHousewife and Co: 30 years ago in Germany we already discussed the potential outcome of climate change in school. It seems there are still a lot of people who just do not get there heads around the fact of ‘our effect’ on the planet. burning all CO2 – that is simply put stored energy from the sun, that took hundreds of millions of years to accumulate – within in a couple of centuries will not have any ramifications for the climate whatsoever is saying that 2 + 2 = 5 or 100 or 0, you name it, but not 4. That lack of common sense is incredibly ignorant.

  • Marcus Friel

    Well we need better leaders. The fracking needs to stop.. plastics… 7 tons of trash in our oceans now… I heard also thay by 2025 reefs will no longer exists, and that by 2048 our oceans will be dead….
    Not to mention the population freaking out without. And desperation overwhelming nations worlwide, causing possible violent and riots breaking out…
    Its great articles can be published like this on , because it shows the murderous nature of man has no limitations, and the ignorance of what is transpiring will be cleaned up by a mother earth that has violent storms to clean up its mess, even if this means the end of animal, and human life, to start over. A cleansing…. Al Gore knew it…

  • Hugo

    Climate change has not been scientifically proven, all that we see in the media are just possible observations etc… It is difficult to compare the amount of CO2 in the air 100 years ago to what we have today. The reality is we as human beings must take better care of our environment, but global warming is not as exaggerated as the media says it is. The Earth ever since its creation has undergone extensive heating, once the temperature rises to a certain degree above normal it cools back down. The last time there was too much CO2 and heat in the Earth’s atmosphere the Ice Age occurred and the planet cooled down gradually back to its normal levels. Something similar should happen its just the nature of things. The Earth used to have many huge active volcanoes releasing huge amounts of CO2 in the air more than us humans do, so people should not panic as much. The more pressing issues are over fishing, hunting, deforestation and dumping garbage into our oceans. We do have to promote a cleaner, more sustainable planet, in order to coexist with nature, but this “evidence” that is provided about what global warming “can do” is just speculation it is not scientifically proven. You can’t go into the atmosphere and measure the amount of CO2 there, you can’t measure how CO2 must be removed to improve the situation. The only thing that is scientifically proven with data collected from the antartics polar ice caps, was that the last time the Earth contained too much CO2 in the atmosphere the planet cooled down to fix it. In other words we are just accelerating the coming of another Ice Age.

  • nome ridlend

    After noticing the ostensible, Prussian blue on the banner in the picture, Justins’ article wasn’t as bad. Water acidity is something im not going to fret about – maybe some folk tales of green leafy foods will matter.

  • Will

    Let’s say all of this is happening. The issue is dire, we will be looking at catastrophic warming, climate change, etc.

    How are you going to convince China and India with roughly 3/4 of the world’s population to shutdown their economic engine? How many of you pushing major changes are willing to sacrifice yourselves and your children for this jihad?

  • BarryO

    Excellent! This means the waves will be bigger.

    How do these so-called experts explain the East Anglia letters?

  • Walt Defaldo

    Oooo… oo.. wait, no, this is a protest central. should organize and rally against Uranium mining cos. in U.S. geographical areas where there is an airport in proximity. Start with or use the example: AK-US, ect. ect. ect. .
    Maybe, just maybe, ocean acidification has something to do with the mining of radioactive elements and run-off.

    • Ricky Shroder

      Yeah, why dont u do that? Im not a member of the Four Hundred that might stand a chance.

    • Sarah P.

      Under a controlled environment, I can assure you that there are no excesses or overages from EPA guidelines, further limits of Uranium and byproducts of radioacitve decay, from mining operations – in any U.S. jurisdiction – are monitored every eight hours in duration. Observations abroad further Energy Charter Treaties, GATT which allow U.S. government authority proper disclosure for mere, non-engaging, political manners. For more information about proximal dangers, one could use the corollary between machine and animal/man and nature, please view the attached link:


      Given the current barometric pressure around the islands, the prevailing trade winds, given water temperatures, salinity and ambient High-pressure, sister troughs, one could assume if it was summer, there could be an actual hurricane, not some pseudo whirlwind, coreolis or even a centripital weather-system whipped around to bear down easterly, from a jetstream at 20k-40k asl.
      There isn’t acidity relevant at that level and it wouldn’t matter then, so what policy would justify and allow world superpowers to sign on for nonproliferation which originated decades ago.

  • redneyrude

    I remember back in the late 80’s you guys published a Kookmeyer cartoon showing surfing thru the decades and how the boards & fashion changed, each decade. This article reminds me of the last frame, with Kookmeyer wearing a gas mask and radiation-proof wetsuit. It was a laugh back then, but now?…

  • Ross Peritore

    Sea levels have been rising and falling since there have been seas on the planet. Natural global phenomena. What caused sea level rise before humans were on the planet?
    Yet, we are so convinced that now it’s all due to human activities….
    think people…