Irreversible Change: A Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere

melting ice blocks on black sand beachThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approved and accepted Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate at its 51st Session held on 20 – 23 September 2019. The IPCC acts as the United Nations body created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change. Consequently, the IPCC offers a comprehensive policy-relevant analysis of climate change by determining the state of scientific knowledge.

Coinciding with the UN Climate Action Summit 2019, the most recent report is the result of a 2016 IPCC Panel decision to prepare three Special Reports during the Sixth Assessment Cycle. This Special Report focuses on the state of the ocean and cryosphere ecosystems, and their role in climate adaptation. In particular, “[t]he ocean and cryosphere support unique habitats, and are interconnected with other components of the climate system through global exchange of water, energy and carbon.” Significantly, the report underscores the role of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions in furthering the irreversible changes to these systems over next decades to millennia.

The report consists of three parts: Observed Changes and Impacts, Projected Changes and Risks, and Implementing Responses to Ocean and Cryosphere Change. In addition, each section includes various degrees of scientific certainty as related to continuous climate change.

A few key observation of high confidence (or virtual certainty) include:

  • Climate warming has led to shrinking of the cryosphere and reductions in snow cover and Arctic sea ice extent;
  • Continuous increases in global ocean warming remain unabated since 1970 while undergoing increasing surface acidification and loss of oxygen;
  • Global mean sea level (GMSL) is rising along with increases in tropical cyclone winds and rainfall resulting in extreme coastal weather.

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