by Jan Witting, Faculty, Sea Education Association

Rich is alone in an endless landscape of waves, traveling the world’s oceans with occasional sightings of seabirds, flying fish, and whales. For me, as a sea-going oceanographer, the ocean always looks so much bigger than we humans that it is difficult to believe that we could somehow change it. But we can, and we are.

So what kind of changes can be felt out there on the high seas? Well, global climate change and warming temperatures have done some things that are quite visible. Let’s take the Southern Ocean, where Rich is now, as an example.

The big ice shelves surrounding Antarctica have started to break up during the past few years. These huge plates of thick, floating ice are hundreds of years old, and they are big enough to see from satellites. The most recent shelf to break up is the Wilkins Ice Shelf, and it broke up just this past spring. As big as the state of Connecticut, this shelf broke apart into smaller bits and is floating away slowly out to sea.

There are many other changes oceanographers worldwide are keeping an eye on. Some examples are the rise of sea level, changes in the ocean currents, and ocean acidification.

Earth really is the ocean planet, so if you think about it, global climate change will be felt in the oceans, too.