Oceans and seas 2020-

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Seven Seas

Amid rising seas, island nations push for legal protections
(AP) — When and if an island nation fully submerges due to rising seas, what happens to the nationalities of its citizens?
This and other related questions are being considered by island nations advocating for changes to international law as climate change threatens their existence.
“Climate change induced sea level rise is a defining issue for many Pacific Island states and like most climate change issues, Pacific Island states have been at the forefront of challenging international law to develop in a way which is equitable and just,” said Fleur Ramsay, head of litigation and climate lead of the Pasifika Program at the Australia-based Environmental Defenders Office.

28 August
Greenland ice sheet set to raise sea levels by nearly a foot, study finds
New research suggests the massive ice sheet is already set to lose more than 3 percent of its mass, even if the world stopped emitting greenhouse gases today
(WaPo) The findings in Nature Climate Change project that it is now inevitable that 3.3 percent of the Greenland ice sheet will melt — equal to 110 trillion tons of ice, the researchers said. That will trigger nearly a foot of global sea-level rise.
Greenland ice sheet climate disequilibrium and committed sea-level rise
(Nature) Ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet is one of the largest sources of contemporary sea-level rise (SLR). While process-based models place timescales on Greenland’s deglaciation, their confidence is obscured by model shortcomings including imprecise atmospheric and oceanic couplings. Here, we present a complementary approach resolving ice sheet disequilibrium with climate constrained by satellite-derived bare-ice extent, tidewater sector ice flow discharge and surface mass balance data.

27 June-9 July
C. Uday Bhaskar: Lack of global consensus bodes ill for health of world’s oceans
From marine pollution and harmful fishing practices to biodiversity loss and increasing acidification, our oceans are in trouble but long-term issues tend to get short shrift from political leaders
The inability to effectively regulate oceans stems mainly from contradictions, anomalies and the realpolitik surrounding the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

A new declaration to help save our oceans
(UNEP) Last week, world leaders adopted a landmark declaration at the United Nations’ Ocean Conference in Lisbon to scale up science-based and innovative actions and address the ocean emergency of habitat loss, ocean acidification and ecosystem degradation.
More than 150 countries gathered at the conference, co-hosted by the governments of Portugal and Kenya, agreed to take actions to strengthen, among other things, marine pollution, blue economies and marine protected areas.
Marine pollution accounts for at least 85 per cent of marine waste, and plastic litter is the chief pollutant. Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean. If nothing is done about it, by 2040, the equivalent of 50 kg of plastic per meter of coastline worldwide is projected to flow into the ocean yearly.
The Lisbon declaration ‘Our ocean, our future, our responsibility,’ called on governments to do more to prevent, reduce, and eliminate marine plastic litter – including single-use plastics and microplastics – by contributing to comprehensive life-cycle approaches, encouraging recycling and environmentally sound waste management.
The declaration welcomed the decision made at the fifth UN Environment Assembly held in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier this year to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. Member States gavelled a historic resolution to forge the agreement by 2024.

World Leaders Pledge Greater Action to Save Oceans from Existing, Future Threats, Adopting Sweeping Political Declaration as Lisbon Conference Concludes
The 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference concluded today with world leaders adopting an action-oriented Political Declaration to save the ocean from existing and future threats, including marine pollution, harmful fishing practices, biodiversity loss, and acidification.
Through the Declaration, titled “Our Ocean, Our Future, Our Responsibility”, Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives participating in the Conference — which focused on Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water) — said that greater ambition is required at all levels to address the dire state of the ocean

2021

8 November
Tuvalu minister to address Cop26 knee deep in water to highlight climate crisis and sea level rise
‘We are sinking’: foreign minister Simon Kofe hopes the speech will demonstrate the reality of sea levels rising for countries on the frontline
(
The Guardian) Many big polluters have vowed to intensify their carbon cuts over coming decades with some aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But Pacific Island leaders have demanded immediate action, pointing out that the very survival of their low-lying countries is at stake.
Before Cop26, it emerged that one-third of Pacific small island states and territories would be unable to send any government figures to the summit in Glasgow due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The lack of high-level representation of Pacific nations at the meeting led to fears that the concerns of these countries, which are among those most at risk due to the climate crisis, would not be appropriately represented at the summit.
In October, a World Bank report said that projected sea level rise could cost the Marshall Islands, a country in the north Pacific halfway between Hawaii and Australia, its status as a nation.

10 August
#InDeepTrouble: An Overview of Bottom Trawling in Canada
(Pacific Wild) Large bottom trawl nets are currently being dragged along Canada’s seafloor, wiping out vulnerable fish stocks, coral reefs and other invaluable ecosystems. Non-target and endangered species are falling victim to these nets and are tossed overboard as bycatch. Furthermore, bottom trawling is responsible for releasing more than one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by disrupting carbon stored in the seafloor.

5 August
Observation-based early-warning signals for a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)
(Nature) AMOC, a major ocean current system transporting warm surface waters toward the northern Atlantic, has been suggested to exhibit two distinct modes of operation. A collapse from the currently attained strong to the weak mode would have severe impacts on the global climate system and further multi-stable Earth system components. Observations and recently suggested fingerprints of AMOC variability indicate a gradual weakening during the last decades, but estimates of the critical transition point remain uncertain. Here, a robust and general early-warning indicator for forthcoming critical transitions is introduced. Significant early-warning signals are found in eight independent AMOC indices, based on observational sea-surface temperature and salinity data from across the Atlantic Ocean basin. These results reveal spatially consistent empirical evidence that, in the course of the last century, the AMOC may have evolved from relatively stable conditions to a point close to a critical transition.
Scientists warn of Gulf Stream collapse leading to ‘climate catastrophe’ in Canada, world
(Global) The AMOC has been speculated to undergo two modes: the first of which is described as a strong current that helps the gush of warm water from the tropics maintain large parts of Europe’s current climate, while the second is described as a weak mode, which if activated is considered to be one of the world’s climate tipping points towards catastrophic damage.
[U of T professor Kent Moore] pointed to…an event that occurred near the end of the Earth’s last ice age, around 13,000 years ago. As large swaths of ice began to melt from the ice sheets in North America, the sudden influx of previously frozen fresh water being dumped into the ocean prevented the heavier saltwater in the stream from sinking and returning to the equator, resulting in a weaker current. The result, according to Moore, was a cataclysmic event that sent what is considered Europe today into a “deep freeze” for about 1,000 years. As the Gulf Stream “shut down,” so did the flow of warm waters which brought warmth to the Scandinavian seas off the European continent.

2 August
The Seas Are Rising. Could Oysters Help?
How a landscape architect is enlisting nature to defend our coastal cities against climate change—and doing it on the cheap. In New York, Kate Orff will use oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges.
By Eric Klinenberg
(The New Yorker) “Before Buttermilk Channel was dredged, people used to walk from here to Governors Island at low tide,” she said. “There were oysters, tide pools, grasses, lots of colorful marine life, and they were a big part of New York’s coastal-protection system. They acted like breakwaters, absorbing wave energy and slowing the water before it hit the shore. We’ve spent the past one hundred years dredging out everything for shipping and hardening the edges. Now we have a different climate, and we need a different approach.”
A great deal of Orff’s work addresses the inescapable fact that the Atlantic Ocean is rising, and coming for the land. She’s the founder of the design firm SCAPE, the director of the Urban Design Program at Columbia University, and the first landscape architect to win a MacArthur “genius” grant. She’s also at the forefront of an emerging approach to climate resilience that argues we should be building with nature, not just in nature. Its guiding principle is that “gray infrastructure”—the dikes, dams, and seawalls that modern societies use to contain and control water—is often insufficient, and sometimes destructive. Green infrastructure, by contrast, involves strategically deploying wetlands, dunes, mangrove forests, and reefs to reduce threats of catastrophic flooding and coastal erosion, while also revitalizing the land. This carefully designed “second nature,” the thinking goes, could be our second chance.
…the Billion Oyster Project, a nonprofit that aims to reintroduce the bivalve, in vast quantities, to the waterways of New York City—oysters being a critical part of her coastal-infrastructure plans. Correctly deployed, oysters can form dense reefs that slow the movement of water and mitigate the impact of storm surges.

26 July
5 ways climate-driven ocean change can threaten human health
Tiff-Annie Kenny, Adjunct professor, Faculté de médecine, and Mélanie Lemire, Associate professor, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Université Laval
Malaya Bishop, Research Assistant, Department of Biology – Food Security, Climate Change, and Indigenous Health, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa
As the world turns to the ocean for “blue economies,” “blue spaces,” “blue health care” and “blue prescriptions,” it’s important to remember the ocean as a site of historic and enduring oppression, exclusion, racism and other violations of human rights. For the health of the ocean and its peoples, the ocean needs to become more equitable — and that means reconciling and healing the histories and relationships of cultures, values and knowledge systems that all share the sea.
(The Conversation) Humans have a deep and complex relationship with the sea. It provides food and essential nutrients, medicine and renewable energy. People swim, surf and scuba dive in this “blue gym.” It’s even an important part of therapeutic recreation, like surf therapy for war veterans and children with autism.
Economies are also bound to the ocean. Fishing, tourism, marine transportation and shipping bring jobs, income and food security, while serving culture and other social determinants of health.
Ocean waters are now warmer, more acidic and hold less oxygen. Ocean ecosystems, already stressed from overfishing and pollution, face escalating risks of further degradation. With melting sea ice, rising sea levels and growing extreme weather events, human health and well-being now face many threats, most aimed at coastal populations.

19 July
As sea levels rise, B.C. coastal cities could face flooding from moon’s ‘wobble’
A lunar cycle that repeats every 18.6 years could worsen floods from climate change’s rising seas
(CBC) “Very, very slowly the axis the moon is orbiting the Earth around is kind of shifting … and the tides are going to respond.”
The issue came to the fore after the release of a new NASA study, published in Nature Climate Change journal earlier this month, called “Rapid increases and extreme months in projections of United States high-tide flooding.”
Although the study only examines impacts on U.S. coastal communities, the same effects would apply to cities in B.C. as well as other coastal areas in Canada, explained [Jess McIver, an assistant professor of astronomy at UBC]. She added that the effects of moon wobble would vary by location.
She said she hopes further studies can specifically examine how the phenomenon, known formally as a “precession effect” of the lunar cycle, could impact Canadian tides.

16 July
High-Tide Flood Risk Will Increase 5 to 15 Times Over Next 15 Years, Putting Coastal Economies at Risk
By Renee Collini
(FlaglerLive.com) The frequency of high-tide flooding along the U.S. coasts has doubled since 2000, and it’s expected to increase five to 15 times more in the next 30 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns in a new report released July 14, 2021.
I work with coastal communities in the northern Gulf of Mexico that are facing the risks of rising seas as they try to avoid preventable damages and costs, such as infrastructure failures and falling property values. Information like the NOAA report is critical to helping these communities succeed.
Last year, the U.S. averaged four days of high-tide flooding, but that number doesn’t tell the whole story – regionally, several areas saw far more. There were record-breaking numbers of high-tide flooding days in 2020 along the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic coasts. The city of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, jumped from three days of high-tide flooding in 2000 to 22 days in 2020. …
Sea level rise disproportionately impacts poorer, marginalized communities, and the impact of high-tide flooding has been no exception. People living in some of the most underserved coastal communities are facing increases in their insurance premiums because of the flood and storm risks, sometimes with more than 90% of the insurance policies in a single ZIP code projected to increase.

14 July
Scientists aim to build a detailed seafloor map by 2030 to reveal the ocean’s unknowns
Dr. Sean Mullan teaches in the applied ocean mapping graduate program of the School of Ocean Technology at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Marine Institute in St. John’s.
(The Conversation) Marine scientists often feel like they’re fumbling in the dark. The global ocean covers about 71 per cent of our planet and is central to life as it exists on Earth. But only about 20 per cent of the seafloor has been directly mapped so far.
Survey ships equipped with sonars called multibeam echo sounders are being used to measure the depth of the seafloor to better understand it. But the size of the job is enormous. A single survey ship would take about 350 years to adequately map most of the seabed deeper than 200 metres, and it would take another 620 years to map the shallower areas.
We must map the ocean faster. Today, marine surveying, or hydrography, is central to major international initiatives, including one that aims to see all of the ocean floor mapped in unprecedented detail by 2030.
A more detailed and accurate global model of water depth would reveal the seafloor’s shape, and the data can be used to understand seabed composition. This will increase the safety of marine navigation, inform security and defence operations, improve oceanographic and climate studies, support various sectors of the sustainable ocean economy and guide decisions on habitat conservation. But it could also come with risks and costs.
The Battle for the Ocean Floor
(OZY) Only 20% of Earth’s ocean floor has been mapped. Vast stretches of our seas are less understood than the surfaces of Mars and Venus. Yet that great unknown is now emerging as an untouched economic frontier. From mining firms to Big Tech, industries are queueing up to explore and exploit the deep seas. So get ready to dive into a world of mystery and wonder, learn about battles bubbling beneath the surface of the oceans, meet individuals making waves down below and revisit the myriad ways in which the sea has inspired everything from myths to the military.
Mining rare minerals and metals from beneath the ocean could avoid the environmental damage of on-shore mining, and fuel our sustainable transition. In the most common version of deep-sea mining, huge excavation robots scour the seabed for polymetallic nodules, small potato-sized clusters of key minerals such as cobalt and nickel. Resources like these are in high demand for building technologies like new batteries, which will be crucial to electrifying our society. These mining activities, however, might damage deep-sea ecosystems we know very little about. Which is why NGOs such as Greenpeace and even some companies, like BMW, are calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
Governments are increasingly diving into the deep. Several countries are now realizing how crucial oceanic internet cables are. Russian submarines have been known to monitor or even tap undersea cables. And the European Union wants to expand its offering of internet cables to promote its own technological sovereignty. In the meantime, international institutions are trying to keep order. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a little-known Jamaica-based institution related to the United Nations, will in the coming years decide on the future of deep-sea mining. Companies and NGOs are holding their breath.

Extreme heat waves are putting lakes and rivers in hot water this summer
(The Conversation) Many people may perceive lakes and rivers to be refuges from unprecedented heat, but freshwater systems are no less sensitive. Heat waves have killed thousands of fish in Alaska as temperatures exceeded the lethal limit for coldwater fishes.
This year’s hot and dry summer could collapse the salmon fishery in the Sacramento River in California. In British Columbia and Yukon, salmon numbers have declined by as much as 90 per cent and have led the federal government to shut down 60 per cent of the commercial and First Nations communal salmon fishery.

12 July
How countries are turning the tide on marine plastic pollution
(UNEP) More and more countries are joining the Clean Seas campaign to fight against marine litter and plastic pollution. Over 60 countries – both coastal and landlocked – have signed up to this global movement with ambitious pledges and commitments.
Many have pledged to reduce or eradicate single-use plastics from their societies through stronger legislation and regulation. Others have committed to invest more in national recycling facilities and promote action plans to prevent harm to the coastal and marine environment.
The next phase of Clean Seas is expanding on the source-to-sea approach focusing on the root cause of marine plastic, which mainly comes from the land-based sources and works its way to the sea through lakes, rivers, and waterways.

8 July
‘Heat dome’ probably killed 1bn marine animals on Canada coast, experts say
British Columbia scientist says heat essentially cooked mussels: ‘The shore doesn’t usually crunch when you walk’
(The Guardian) More than 1 billion marine animals along Canada’s Pacific coast are likely to have died from last week’s record heatwave, experts warn, highlighting the vulnerability of ecosystems unaccustomed to extreme temperatures.
… The mass death of shellfish would temporarily affect water quality because mussels and clams help filter the sea, Harley said, keeping it clear enough that sunlight reaches the eelgrass beds while also creating habitats for other species.
Fisheries in hot water
Extreme heat boils Canada’s waters and shellfish (Reuters video)

7 July
The scientists fighting to save the ocean’s most important carbon capture system
The population of kelp forests, which help clean the air, has fallen dramatically. That has environmentalists worried.
(WaPo) Kelp forests cover a quarter of the world’s coastlines, stretching from Antarctica to Australia, Mexico to Alaska, providing food and shelter for thousands of species, while sucking carbon from the atmosphere. But over the past decade, thanks to warming waters and overfishing, they’re disappearing.

23 June
Cloud spraying and hurricane slaying: how ocean geoengineering became the frontier of the climate crisis
Around the world, dozens of ingenious projects are trying to ‘trick’ the ocean into absorbing more CO2. But critics warn of unforeseen consequences
(The Guardian) Tom Green has a plan to tackle climate change. The British biologist and director of the charity Project Vesta wants to turn a trillion tonnes of CO2 into rock, and sink it to the bottom of the sea.
Green admits the idea is “audacious”. It would involve locking away atmospheric carbon by dropping pea-coloured sand into the ocean. The sand is made of ground olivine – an abundant volcanic rock, known to jewellers as peridot – and, if Green’s calculations are correct, depositing it offshore on 2% of the world’s coastlines would capture 100% of total global annual carbon emissions.
The plan relies on a natural process called weathering. “Weathering has been working on the planet for billions of years,” says Green, a graduate of Harvard Business School who runs Project Vesta from San Francisco. “When rain falls on volcanic rocks, they dissolve a little in the water, causing a chemical reaction that uses carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The carbon ends up in the ocean, where it’s used by marine-calcifying organisms like corals and shell-making animals, whose skeletons and shells sink to the bottom of the ocean as sediment and eventually become limestone.”
The idea of using the sea to absorb excess carbon is not far-fetched, says Green. Ocean water can hold 150 times more CO2 than air, per unit of volume. “The ocean has already taken up about 30% of the excess carbon dioxide that we’ve emitted as a society,” he says. He and his colleagues are gearing up to test their process in two similar Caribbean coves, one acting as an untouched “control” in the experiment.
There remain many unknowns. Would such an intervention work? Who gets to decide if it should go ahead? Could there be side-effects? It is complex chemistry, and the natural process of weathering would be accelerated to an unnatural pace. Our understanding of the workings of the ocean is a mere drop in the proverbial. But with our race to mend the planet having taken on Sisyphean overtones, there is still hope that the vast, churning seas can be our lifeline.

June 2021
Maya Lin, Ghost Trees and Sea Level Rise
(Climate Science) Analyses of recent satellite photos show large swaths of forest along the east coast of the U.S. that are dead and/or dying. Visible from space, some tens of thousands of acres of coastal forest habitat have been converted to shrub-land or marsh habitat. This unique land cover of standing dead and fallen tree trunks was gray in color and dubbed, “ghost forest.”
The major portion of the die-off occurred after a five-year drought, which was then followed by a hurricane [Irene] in 2011 that inundated the land under a six-foot wall of sea-water. This combination of extreme events, according to Dr. Emily Ury from Duke University [Rapid deforestation of a coastal landscape driven by sea-level rise and extreme events], was “not normal. Large patches of trees are dying simultaneously … and it is not just a local issue.” Rising sea-levels, and salinity, can penetrate well inland and can lead to dramatic die offs and loss of coastal forests.
… what we have is a confluence of factors that further complicate, intensify and contribute to climate change; these include sea level rise, salt water intrusion, storm surge, dead trees no longer fixing carbon and taking carbon dioxide [CO2] out of the atmosphere, and then as they decay putting CO2 back into the atmosphere which results in more warming and round we go again.

29 April
Watching a coral reef die as climate change devastates one of the most pristine tropical island areas on Earth
(The Conversation) The Chagos Archipelago is one of the most remote, seemingly idyllic places on Earth. Coconut-covered sandy beaches with incredible bird life rim tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles from any continent. Just below the waves, coral reefs stretch for miles along an underwater mountain chain.
It’s a paradise. At least it was before the heat wave.

25 February
Canada’s oceans agenda
With over 7 million Canadians living in coastal communities, Canada has a lot at stake in protecting our 3 oceans and coasts. We rely on our oceans for food, jobs, clean air and much more. Our stewardship of this important natural resource is part of our social fabric and is woven into the vast history of maritime and Indigenous traditions.

2020

2 December
World leaders are waking up to the ocean’s role in a healthy planet
(Nature) Fourteen nations have made an unprecedented and welcome commitment to use marine ecosystems sustainably. It is equally important to establish a system to hold them to account.

19 November
UK to support plans for new global treaty to ‘turn tide’ on plastic pollution
Lord Goldsmith says Britain, the second biggest per capita producer of plastic waste, could play leading role in tackling crisis
Britain has thrown its weight behind a new global agreement to tackle the plastic pollution crisis, which Lord Goldsmith said would go “far beyond” existing international agreements.
This week, the Guardian revealed there is growing support for such a treaty internationally, but that neither the UK nor the US, the world’s biggest per capita producers of plastic waste, had yet pledged their support.
The minister for Pacific and the Environment said on Wednesday he believes it is time to start negotiations on a UN treaty on plastics similar to the Paris agreement on the climate crisis. He suggested the UK could provide a leading role in negotiating the terms of such an agreement, as it had with the leaders’ pledge for nature.

September 2020
Considering Indigenous Peoples and local communities in governance of the global ocean commons
By Marjo K. Vierros et al.
Abstract
(Science Direct) The United Nations are currently negotiating a new international legally-binding instrument to govern the global ocean commons, a vast area beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) owned by everyone but not cared for by any single entity. Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) have been underrepresented in the debate about governance of ABNJ despite their internationally recognized rights and their role as custodians of many globally-significant migratory species that travel between coasts and high seas. Here we use examples of active transboundary connectivity by migratory species as case studies to highlight the relevance of IPLCs on islands, coasts and beyond to the governance of the global ocean commons, and make a case for their essential and beneficial inclusion in it. Many migratory species are culturally and economically important to IPLCs, who are frequently the first to suffer if these species are overexploited or decline due to inadequate management in ABNJ. Four case studies (Pacific salmon, Marine Turtles, Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses, Northern fur seal) illustrate knowledge, innovations and practices of IPLCs that have global importance in informing strategies for conservation, sustainable and equitable use of marine species in general. IPLCs can contribute to enriching the diversity of approaches and solutions, and by elaborating on principles directly relevant for governance of ABNJ within the UN process and beyond. (Marine Policy, Volume 119, September 2020, 104039)

26 February
NASA satellite photos show Antarctica melting in record-setting February heatwave
Before and after photos of Eagle Island ice caps were taken by Landsat Science’s Operational Land Imager during a heatwave between Feb. 4 and Feb. 13. The NASA Earth Observatory said the photos show the heatwave melted 20 per cent of the island’s snow in a matter of nine days.

13 February
A Crisis Right Now: San Francisco and Manila Face Rising Seas
An estimated 600 million people live directly on the world’s coastlines, among the most hazardous places to be in the era of climate change. According to scientific projections, the oceans stand to rise by one to four feet by the end of the century, with projections of more ferocious storms and higher tides that could upend the lives of entire communities.
Many people face the risks right now. Two sprawling metropolitan areas offer a glimpse of the future. One rich, one poor, they sit on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean: the San Francisco Bay Area (population 7 million) and metropolitan Manila (almost 14 million). … in both places, climate change has magnified years of short-sighted decisions. Manila allowed groundwater to be pumped out so fast that the land sagged and turned into a bowl just as the sea was rising. The Bay Area allowed people to build right at the water’s edge, putting homes, highways, even airports at risk of catastrophic flooding.  Now, Manila and the Bay Area face tough choices. They could adapt to the rising tide, which could mean moving people out of harm’s way. Or, they could try to force the water to adapt to their needs by raising their defenses. For leaders, politically tough decisions lie ahead. What do they save on the water’s edge, what do they forsake and how do they reimagine their coastal cities in an age of climate disruptions?

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