Thanks to floating algae’s photosynthesizing and chemical reactions with the water itself, much of our carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the oceans. However, although some of this carbon dioxide makes its way into the rock cycle via the seafloor, much of it is beginning to escape. Warmer oceans aren’t able to retain as much carbon dioxide as colder ones, and it will begin to leach out into the atmosphere, which will begin to accelerate the warming at the surface of our world like never before.
As this report also highlights, huge frozen methane reservoirs beneath the ocean (and indeed, in the Arctic's permafrost cover) will almost certainly begin to destabilize and effuse skyward as the oceans become warmer and more acidic.
Methane may break down in the atmosphere faster than the primary greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, but in the short-term, it is far more potent – and its release will could trigger yet another positive feedback cycle, warming the planet faster and faster year on year. A warmer world means a warmer ocean, and a less stable, leakier carbon sink.
“We should have a great deal of respect for the planet on which we live,” the report records Carl-Gustaf Rossby, a pioneering meteorologist, as saying back in 1956. “Tampering can be dangerous. Nature can be vengeful.”
The fuse has been lit. Will the Paris agreement stamp it out before we destroy our planet’s greatest carbon sink?
The clock's ticking. Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock