Ocean, Carbon & Climate Connections
The ocean has absorbed roughly one-third of human-caused carbon emissions since the dawn of the Industrial Age and holds more than 20 times the amount of carbon than the atmosphere and terrestrial plants combined. Actions towards meeting the Paris Agreement require more than cutting emissions—we must actively remove carbon from the atmosphere to avoid the worst of the impending climate crisis, which means leveraging the ocean’s central role in Earth’s carbon cycle and climate system. But how can we do this equitably, at scale, and without disrupting marine ecosystems? And what are the gaps in knowledge that must be closed to implement fact-based policies?
Ocean Stressors, Signals & Warning Signs
Understanding the indicators of ocean change—as well as their nature and magnitude—is critical in deciding how to act at all levels of society. Sustained observations can lead to improved understanding of how the ocean responds to stressors and guide the formulation of effective policies and sustainable practices to mitigate further damages. What are the indicators we should pay attention to, what early warning systems are needed, and what scales of measurement throughout the global ocean are needed to support these? How do we make this information accessible and relevant to stakeholders worldwide in time to act?
Global population currently stands at more than 8 billion and is expected to reach 10 billion by 2060. With many countries poised to make significant leaps in economic and technological development, Earth’s natural resources will be hard-pressed to meet demand in coming decades without turning to the ocean. Sustainable options exist but must be carefully evaluated to avoid damaging Earth’s life-support systems. How do we sustainably meet the increasing demands placed on the ocean by a rapidly growing and developing global society? And how do we balance the many possible societal benefits of the ocean while also supporting healthy marine ecosystems?
Sea level rise will continue to accelerate over the coming centuries and presents an existential threat to society by inundating low-lying land and threatening infrastructure, economies and entire nations. Adapting to this redrawn coastline will cost trillions and require decades of planning and implementation, even as the water rises. What do we know about the drivers and magnitude of a rising ocean, the factors that exacerbate or moderate the impacts of sea level rise, and what are the remaining wildcards in future sea level rise estimates? What will wholesale changes to coastlines mean for society and ecosystems and how can we plan for a vastly different future along the world’s coastlines?
Climate & the Living Ocean
Climate change is playing out in the ocean as well as on land, as water temperatures rise, currents reshape, and ocean chemistry changes. Ocean life, from the surface to the deepest trenches, is bearing the brunt of climate impacts, as are the people and communities that rely on the ocean for lives and livelihoods. What does climate change mean for marine biodiversity and ecosystems that support a healthy ocean and thriving communities? How can we identify and preserve critical parts of the ocean in the face of changing political landscapes and a rapidly changing climate?
The Urban Ocean
Nearly half of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast, many of them poor and many in densely populated urban areas. This confluence of people, infrastructure, and marine systems —on land and in the ocean—offers unprecedented opportunities to create sustainable human-ocean interactions, as well as unprecedented concerns over risk and safety. What unique challenges arise where dense human populations and the ocean meet and coexist? What does this complex relationship teach us about other parts of the ocean-human system?
Climate Justice & Empowered Voices
The cost associated with oceanographic research has meant that it has historically been the domain of wealthy, predominantly white nations in the Northern Hemisphere. What can the science community do to elevate Indigenous knowledge, decolonize science, and raise historically overlooked perspectives to improve our ability to understand and sustainably manage the ocean and its resources? How do we ensure that access to research capacity and data products is shared globally, particularly with nations hardest-hit by a changing ocean?
Blue Economy & Finance
The total asset base of the ocean has been valued at US$24 trillion, and the annual “gross marine product” (GMP)—equivalent to a country’s annual gross domestic product—is about US$2.5 trillion, making it the seventh largest economy in the world. It also offers untold opportunities, to feed and power the planet, to decarbonize society and avert climate catastrophe, and to improve the lives and livelihoods of billions worldwide. How can we accelerate innovation and technological development to improve the sustainability and economic vitality of an ocean-centric global economy? What role does finance play in ensuring the ocean can continue to help society meet the many challenges that await us in the coming decades and centuries?
The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development offers an unmatched opportunity to focus society’s attention on the importance of a healthy and sustainable ocean for all. It also presents a clarion call for the ocean science community to clearly identify “the science we need for the ocean we want.” Now that we are more than one-third through the Decade, what progress has been made, what are the largest challenges, and what breakthroughs are needed to achieve the goals of the Ocean Decade by 2030 and beyond?
Blue Solutions & Innovations
The ocean covers more than 70% of the planet, and with this vastness comes immense opportunity and inspiration to surmount humanity’s greatest challenges. Systemic decarbonization, long-term global food and water security, novel materials, and yet-unimagined biotechnologies are all within reach in the ocean. Embracing blue solutions not only ensures a prosperous future but also fosters a deeper connection with nature, fueling the drive for positive change. What opportunities and options exist to leverage the ocean’s natural processes and resources in humanity’s mitigation, adaptation, and development goals safely and at-scale? What blue technology innovations present pathways to a sustainable future for all?