What insights into climate change does the ocean hold? What solutions can it offer for life on a warming planet? None if we don't have the means to listen.
The Dalhousie University-based Ocean Frontier Institute—OFI—is opening up global conversations on ocean observation during the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as COP28. The conference runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. COP28's public webcast and schedule can be found here.
OFI delegates will be presenting two projects: A $400 million Transforming Climate Action Research Program, developed in partnership with the Université du Québec à Rimouski, Laval University and Memorial University, to study ocean sequestration, mitigation of carbon emissions and adaptation strategies that are just and equitable.
OFI will be participating in 12 total events at this year's global conference on climate action. Anya Waite is the scientific director and CEO of OFI, associate vice-president, research (ocean) at Dalhousie University and co-chair of GOOS, the Global Ocean Observing System. She is also a panelist at COP28.
"Yesterday I presented to the parties, which means as the co-chair of [GOOS] I presented to a room of about 400 people telling nations how critical the ocean is in the climate system, and how we urgently need to improve our observation of that," says Waite. "It's a really nice way to influence the global dialogue."
Waite says the oceans have absorbed 90% of the heat and almost 30% of the carbon that has been emitted into the atmosphere by human activity. "The ocean has done all that work for us. We need to know how much longer that work is going to continue."
She says reducing emissions is most important because "it's 100 times more expensive to pull carbon dioxide out of the air once it's there than it is to not admit it in the first place.
"We know that we're already overshooting for the Paris Agreement. We want to pull it back to a reasonable level. Once we start to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, we may need to pull it down more quickly in order to keep the earth from warming up to over two degrees. In that case, there's some interventions called the marine carbon dioxide removal. These are technologies that allow us to remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the ocean, which is actually a very good place to store carbon dioxide.
"Ultimately, in 1,000 years most of the carbon dioxide that we'll emit will end up in the ocean. It's just a question of how fast and whether it's going to continue to absorb it quickly or slowly. And we need to know that in order to plan."
On Monday Dec 4, Waite was in a panel with the World Meteorological Organization that she describes as convening "land, atmosphere, ocean, carbon experts, and then modellers, to talk about how we come together to deliver a top-down assessment of how much carbon dioxide is actually in the atmosphere. While we can try and measure bottom-up emissions, like what each nation is emitting in terms of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, in the end the truth is in the atmosphere—and the atmosphere is telling us that it's still accumulating.
"Top-down assessments [figure] out where that's coming from because the natural system is absorbing and releasing way more than the human system. Therefore, we need to understand the backdrop of that natural system.
"We're also putting Canada on the map because of our recently funded research program [Transforming Climate Action]. It's opening doors to talk to other nations about how to coordinate observation and research in the Atlantic and globally."
"Ultimately, in 1,000 years most of the carbon dioxide that we'll emit will end up in the ocean. It's just a question of how fast and whether it's going to continue to absorb it quickly or slowly."
Waite says OFI has talked with Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina at this COP, hoping to add more countries to their list of committed partners which includes Germany, France, the UK, Norway and the United States through NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We're building that global consortium to work together," says Waite. "That puts Dalhousie in the centre of the conversation as our new research program is really catalyzing that international conversation."
Waite is a panelist on Dec. 6 from 7:30-8:30am Halifax time on the "Future of deep ocean observation to service climate forecasts and solutions." It can be watched here.