On the subject of predictions of disaster you can at least actually test, we give one tentative thumb up to the claim that the oceans are going to “suffocate” in 15 years or, according to Smithsonian Magazine, are already starting to. Scientifically it’s a bit silly. Is the idea that by 2035 there will be no air to breathe? Or will some mysterious barrier insert itself between seawater and atmosphere? Why then do we praise this study? Because it gives us a firm deadline here against which to test the hypothesis, or so we think. Death by 2035 or your oxygen back.
As to the supposed mechanism, apparently it’s the mysterious barrier. The idea is that warmer surface water will absorb less oxygen and the fish will all die and take us with them. But as so often, this notion flies in the face of historical data that the planet was considerably warmer than it is now even in the last, Eemian interglacial, let alone before the Pleistocene came 2.5 million years ago, and the oceans didn’t suffocate.
Also, as Jim Steele points out, it flies in the face of oceans being too complicated for such a simplistic theory to have much credibility. And they certainly are complicated. For instance an unrelated study says the “Florida current”, which is a “key component of the Gulf Stream has markedly slowed over the past century”. It’s remarkable. But why did it happen and what are the implications? We just don’t know. And nor, obviously, do the fabled computer models of climate that didn’t see it coming and must now be retweaked to predict it post facto. But here’s something we do know.
You cannot blame this one on global warming because, if it falls outside the list of things the settled science supposedly predicts, then we don’t know what caused it. If weird stuff happens to the Gulf Stream for reasons we did not anticipate or even notice until now and still can’t explain then there’s a lot going on out there that we don’t understand and no one can claim to know we caused it. If they know we are the cause they have to predict it ahead of time, not contrive a linkage after the fact.
Incidentally as we’re doing a bit of a tally of these “and you can take it to the bank” predictions, the Guardian said in April that “Ice-free Arctic summers now very likely even with climate action” and for added emotional impact “If emissions remain very high, there is a risk the Arctic could be ice-free even in the dark, cold winter months, a possibility described as “catastrophic”.” The actual deadline for these ice-free summers turns out to be 2050, though. So we have a decade to act or some such snooze. On which see the list of failed ice-free Arctic predictions in our recent Prophets of Doom video.
So back to the suffocating seas or lack of same. Steele notes that a lot of photosynthesis at the surface generates oxygen but when the resulting organic matter dies and sinks it uses it up further down. So oceans both gain and lose oxygen in complex cycles; more at the surface means less down deep and vice versa. He adds that the process whereby more at the surface meant less below accelerated around the middle of the 20th century because a huge increase in sewage and fertilizer runoff starting around 1950 overstimulated coastal algae blooms. But he adds that this problem of man-made pollution, real pollution, is being dealt with. Moreover, lots of parts of the ocean have had this problem for a long long time, long before you could blame nitrogen fertilizer or CO2, and “the scientific consensus still finds most of the oceans’ surface is supersaturated with oxygen. That’s because warmer waters also stimulate photosynthesis and produce more oxygen.”
So we’re all going to live, fish, fowl and flesh. Just as we did when the planet was around 20° C average through most of its history rather than 12 as at present, and when it was several degrees warmer during the Eemian.