Changing Ocean Systems

Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere are impacting ocean systems in various ways. These pages detail how climate change is causing impacts to ocean chemistry (acidification) as well as increasing sea levels on average and rising sea surface temperatures, leading to stronger storms.

Key changes to ocean systems include:

Acidification – the process by which increasing CO2 levels causes decreasing pH levels in the ocean;

Rising Sea Levels – water volumes are increasing due to melting glaciers and warming temperatures, causing observed sea levels to rise; and

Strengthening Storms – hurricanes and tropical storms are becoming stronger due to increased energy from warmer sea surface temperatures.

Impacts to ocean habitats are detailed in the discussion of coral bleaching and reef degradation in the species and habitats section.

Additionally, oceans play a critical roll in the carbon cycle and regulate atmospheric carbon levels. Were it not for ocean uptake of CO2, atmospheric levels would be increasing at an even greater rate than they are now. Because ocean-carbon uptake is a slow, long-term process, it is not discussed in great detailed here. Visit NOAA’s Educational Resources to learn more. Coastal resource management also offers opportunities to yield mitigation benefits from marine systems that function as carbon sinks.

Learn more about how oceans influence climate globally in this video from NASA:

Given the importance and interconnected nature of land and marine resources, approaches that acknowledge and leverage opportunities for enhanced management, mitigation, and adaptation planning may support existing conservation objectives and the long-term stewardship goals of the land trust community.

Learn More

– Climate Change Impacts on U.S. Coastal and Marine Ecosystems

– Climate, Fisheries, and Protected Resources, NOAA

– Coastal and Marine Ecosystems & Global Climate Change: Potential Effects on U.S. Resources

– The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, NOAA

The Ocean and Climate Change Tools and Guidelines for Action, IUCN