Ocean Science 101: What’s Happening to Our Oceans?

By March 29, 2011 Ocean News

It’s very difficult as an scientist to communicate ocean science to non-scientist (whew…that was a mouthful). You see, it’s difficult for me as a scientist to communicate to you. It may be because I am not the best writer and/or it may be because I use technical lingo and statistical talk to help get my point across. Over the years, I’ve been able to get the hint when I speak to people about ocean science and see them drifting off into never never land. Since then, I’ve been working hard to improve my communication by creating this website and writing as much as possible to see what people think of my writing.

One of the main points of this website is to help people who are not ocean/marine scientists understand what scientists are talking about, in terms people can understand. So this post is sort of beginning of Ocean Science 101. So here goes the first thing that you should know about what is happening to the Oceans.

The problem is there are many things happening to our Oceans. Some bad, some good, and some things are happening that are changing the Oceans which may be natural. Before I go into anything further, you must understand something about ocean science, or science in general. Science is shared among scientists around the world through published papers (or articles) in journals that are peer reviewed. The peer review process is a rigorous method whereby the author, or authors, submits his/her work to a journal of their choice. The publishers of the journal send out the manuscript to 2 or 3 reviewers who critic the article to make sure it follows the correct scientific process and the analyses of the author(s) is correct. Comments are sent back to the author (trust me… there are always comments that come back to the author) and he/she makes the the appropriate changes and sends it back to the publisher to publish in the next available issue. So why do I go through the trouble to tell you all this?

Well, I find it important for everyone to know the amount of work each and every scientific publication goes through before it gets published. Too often, the media publishes unfounded articles that refute these journal articles based on speculation when compared to the articles and rigorous process they undergo. So now, when I make reference to scientific papers or methodologies, you know that I am quoting papers that have been through a tough process because no one is more critical than scientists!

So let’s get on with it. There are lots of things that are going on in the Ocean, but be assured the Ocean is changing, maybe for good, or maybe from bad, but the question remains: Is the human population causing the Oceans to change in some aspects more than others? The answer is YES! Proven in many cases in published journals worldwide. So here is a list of the top problems human are causing to the Oceans and a bit of a description on each one:

1) Increase in Ocean Temperature – It is a proven fact that Ocean Temperatures are rising. Whether you believe it is part of climate change or not, the air temperature is rising and causing the ocean temperatures to rise. This is a huge problem for many species and habitats like coral reefs who have very narrow ranges of temperatures where they can flourish. This means that is the temperature dips down too much, then the corals could die. If the temperatures rise to high, then the corals could die. Some areas will experience more death then others. These areas tend to have warmer temperatures higher than normal for a long period of time. Reefs are not the only habitats that are in trouble due to temperatures. Many species all over the world use temperature as a cue to reproduce, which now can pose a big problem if the temperatures are too high. So what can happen if temperatures rise and stay that way? We will probably see a shift in the places where temperature sensitive species occur.

2) Water Quality – As we depend on clean air for survival, ocean species depend on clean water for their survival. Water is the most important aspect of healthy ocean life, lake life, and river life for that matter. So how are we impacting water quality? Let’s think about it for a minute. Most people around the world live near the coast and the number of people in the world is increasing. So where do you think all the waste is from these people are going? It ends up in the Oceans. Much of the waste in some developed countries is treated at plants (mind you, I was surprised to hear that many cities in developed countries like Canada and the US did not have treatment systems in place along the coastline meaning the waste goes right into the Ocean). Some of the waste that goes in the Oceans gets broken down, but there is only so much the Oceans can break down. When the Oceans can’t break down, the waste causes an increase in nutrients in the Oceans. Nutrients feed certain ocean species like phytoplankton and seagrasses. When these species feed on extra nutrients, they grow and reproduce. They can sometimes take over other habitats such as coral reefs as well as other habitats. Nutrients can change one habitats to another. It’s what we as scientists call a phase shift: when one habitat changes to another because of the success of a new species or community of species.

So those are the two main influences that we have on the Oceans. There are many others, but these are the two main ones that I will cover in today’s post. Since there are so many problems with the Ocean, how do we help the Oceans from all of these problems. In my professional opinion, we should prioritize the human influences that affect the Oceans the most such as rising Ocean temperatures and water quality. Both problems are difficult to remedy quickly, but they can be changed. The first step is to SPEAK UP and make sure that everyone knows about these issues.

How did I do? Feel free to post a comment is you have any questions or concerns.

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