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Oceans, wilderness, UK weather: scientists step up climate warnings

Oceans, wilderness, UK weather: scientists step up climate warnings
Copyright REUTERS/John Schults
Copyright REUTERS/John Schults
By Alasdair Sandford
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A week of warnings on climate change has seen scientists highlight overheating oceans, ‘refugee fish’, wilderness areas under threat – and even more ‘extreme’ British weather.


Oceans warming faster than we thought, “fish refugees” seeking cooler waters, wilderness areas that may vanish altogether – and even a warning that the traditionally moderate British weather is getting more extreme.

This week has brought more evidence on several fronts of the damaging effects of climate change, along with calls from scientists for the world to act urgently to protect oceans and wilderness areas.

A study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday said that the world’s seas may have absorbed up to 60 percent more heat over the past quarter of a century than previously thought.

A report by Reuters published this week – after a year-long investigation into seas between the east coast of the US and West Africa – found that “marine creatures are fleeing for their lives” because of unprecedented ocean warming that is causing “an epic underwater refugee crisis”.

Also, leading environmental experts have warned – again in Nature – that a global conservation policy is needed to preserve the Earth’s few intact ecosystems, following separate studies carried out into wilderness areas at sea and on land.

The call to “protect the last of the wild” by scientists based in the US, Canada and Australia – follows studies of Earth’s dwindling wilderness areas, which are important buffers against the effects of climate change.

The scientists say international policymakers have so far failed to make intact ecosystems an explicit target for conservation, such zones risk disappearing completely.

The new research into oceans – carried out by scientists from the United States, China, France and Germany – cast doubt on previous methods of calculation.

It found that much more heat is being retained within the Earth’s climate system than earlier believed, suggesting that Earth is more sensitive to fossil fuel emissions – and global warming is more advanced – than scientists believed.

“The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn’t sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already,” Laure Resplandy from Princeton University – who led the study – told the Washington Post.

The findings mean countries could have even less time to cut CO2 emissions, in the drive to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The world has already warmed one degree Celsius since the late 19th century.

Rising ocean temperatures mean seas will rise faster, and sensitive areas such as tropical coral reefs and ice sheets near the poles will become even more damaged.

Last month scientists backed by the United Nations said it would take “unprecedented” action by world leaders over the next decade, even to begin to face up to the challenge.

The UK has experienced more weather extremes over the past 10 years compared to previous decades, according to a Met Office report published on Friday. It says that rainfall, warm spells, and the number of “tropical nights” – when temperatures stay above 20 degrees Celsius – are all on the rise.

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