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A new decade of UK ocean science

Executive Director, Prof Edward Hill, from the UK National Oceanography Centre talks to SciTech Europa Quarterly about the issues the ocean is facing.

There is only one ocean, and public and political consciousness is growing about the condition of its health. It is the Earth’s ‘life support system’ with microscopic marine plants re-cycling half the oxygen we breathe and providing essential protein and nutrition for humans. With population set to rise to nine billion people by 2050 – growing fastest in low-lying coastal regions – it is inevitable the ocean will be called up to provide even more food, clean energy, minerals and to support economic development and international trade. The ocean economy is already projected by the OECD to double to $3 trillion per year by 2030.

Unprecedented changes are taking place at the nexus of the ocean, climate and biodiversity. For example, the ocean is now recognised as central to the question of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. It has absorbed 93% of the excess global warming heat and its physical and biological process are taking up 25% of marine species CO2 emissions. However, the question is for how long? Some of the biggest and most visible impacts of climate change are sea-level rise and increased flood risk from extreme events as well as rapid reduction of Arctic sea ice cover and thickness.

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