Seeking a Sea Change

As government officials and other interested parties from around the world met north of Bali, in Manado, Sulawesi, this week to draw up a declaration that will be part of the mix in drafting a Kyoto Protocol successor in Denmark in December, it was an important moment to underline the vital and overlooked role oceans play in Earth’s climate.

With their weather-setting patterns, as they distribute vast tracts of heat around the world, and their matchless ability to soak up half of manmade carbon dioxide, the complex ecosystem that is the oceans and the life in them is a key indicator to the overall health and wellbeing of the planet.

They are also an instrument by which the rate of global warming that is occurring can be calculated. As glaciers melt, sea levels rise, and if current rates of thawing persist, entire costal communities are at risk of being submerged.

At the opening of the weeklong Manado conference, Fisheries Minister Freddy Numberi heralded a warning not only for this archipelago but the entire world.

“It is clear that our precious marine resources are under dire and increasing threat and that in many parts of the world, climate change will accelerate their destruction,” he said.

Essential, therefore, to rolling back the damage being done on land, in the air and in the seas is to formulate an arching comprehension of the interaction between oceans and climate, a complex relationship that is not fully understood by scientists.

More complex monitoring of oceans by satellites – measuring their surface and below-water temperatures; the flow and mix and dispersion of heat; the development and pace of algal blooms; and other such markers – is needed, in tandem with sophisticated computer modelling that can employ large data streams to chart the interaction and forecast likely scenarios.

The Sulawesi talks follow the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference held on this island, and with the imperative meeting in Copenhagen later this year, we hope that all of these long and arduous and overly necessary discussions result in a workable carbon-emissions management and reduction scheme that will be ratified by all, for the good of all, and will not be cast aside apathetically as Kyoto was.

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