The oceans on Earth are vast. It’s estimated that they hold 96.5% of all Earth’s water. They provide thousands of different habitats including coral reefs. The oceans are so vast that it’s believed that 91% of oceans species are still yet to be classified. However, they are also key in regulating worldwide weather patterns including storms and hurricanes. They do this by distributing moisture and heat all around the world. While it’s hard to quantify, strong evidence has linked the impacts of climate change to an increase in the number of large storms and hurricanes that are seen. In their wake, storms also reveal just how polluted our oceans are. Today, we take a closer look at both of these aspects.
Storms, Oceans and Climate Change
The basic formation of storms happens when warm air turns cool, condenses and forms small droplets of water. If this happens quick enough a cumulonimbus cloud forms and air circulates. This forms low pressure which sucks more air in and creates stronger winds. This process will continue for as long as energy is present in the system (e.g. warm air continues to be cooled).
For tropical storms (known as hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons in different parts of the world) this process takes place over the oceans. The warm ocean air heats the cooler air above which then cools and condenses as it rises higher. This forms the cumulonimbus cloud, which starts to rotate, creating low pressure which sucks more air in. The storm will continue to grow in strength and size while warm ocean water heats the cooler air above.
But what does this have to do with climate change?
Well, as we know, climate change and global warming are rapidly increasing the Earth’s temperatures. This is, in turn, heats the oceans. Therefore, it’s believed that a warmer ocean can supply more energy to storms. This results in larger, more powerful storms. When these storms make landfall the damage is even worse.
It’s expected that on current global warming predictions, extreme storm events could increase by 60% by 2100.
Storms and Ocean Pollution
Ocean pollution is a global problem. Marine rubbish has been an issue for a long time and is a challenge we all face. The oceans are continuously being harmed and damaged by pollution that comes in all forms. Different types of ocean pollution include:
- Agricultural runoff
- Industrial waste
Of course, greater storms don’t necessarily increase specific types of pollution like plastic. However, they can increase specific types of runoff and can cause more ships to be damaged causing fuel seepage.
On the other hand, one thing storms can do is highlight the severity of ocean waste. A recent walk along the Scottish shoreline in the aftermath of Storm Arwen highlighted this. The following images, taken along a 1 mile stretch of beach revealed over 5 lobster cages, broken and washed up, and over 10 rubber tyres. There was also a lot of fishing rope, random waste and polystyrene.
So, What Do Storms Tell Us About Our Oceans?
We can learn a lot from storms about our oceans. One aspect is that the oceans are warming quickly and in turn driving a higher frequency of and greater immensity of storms. As the world moves through the next few decades, we will likely see even more larger storms that create more and more damage.
The storms will redistribute human waste and bring to light just how damaged the oceans are through man-made pollution. After every storm or high-tide we will be reminded just how badly we have polluted our oceans. It will continue to bring home the message that more needs to be done to:
- Limit waste and pollution going into our seas.
- Remove existing waste and rubbish in our oceans.
There are many ways you can play your part in helping the oceans. From limiting your own impact on global warming to monitoring your own waste – we can all do our bit. For example, you could:
- Cut down on eating seafood or buy only sustainable seafood
- Conserve water so less wastewater runoff is produced
- Use less energy generally
- Buy less plastic or go plastic-free
- Avoid eating high-carbon producing foods
- Buy longer-lasting clothing made from sustainable, non-plastic fabrics
- Take part in beach, river and ocean clean-up days
- Limit your food waste
- Fish responsibly