Global Environmental Challenges

Global Environmental Challenges

Big Science for Big Challenges

The ocean is fundamental to the planet’s big environmental challenges, and these can only be tackled by big science - science undertaken continuously, over decades and across the entire world’s oceans. The work we undertake here at the NOC seeks to address four big challenges:

Securing clean energy, food, minerals and other resources

  • If managed sustainably the ocean is a vast economic resource
  • The ocean offers prospects of clean supplies of energy including offshore wind, tidal and wave power generation
  • The ocean is a major food resource and for over 1 billion people it is their primary source of animal protein
  • It is estimated that by 2020 5% of the world's minerals, including cobalt, copper and zinc could come from the ocean floors. This could rise to 10% by 2030.
  • The ocean, in particular the deep ocean, holds great potential for the development of medicines

Protecting people and property from natural disasters like coastal flooding and extreme weather

  • As sea level rises, low lying coastal regions will be subject to inundation and ever more frequent extreme flooding events
  • Storm surge flooding is UK’s single biggest natural disaster risk
  • Extreme weather systems including hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones draw their energy from the warm surface layer of the ocean

Protecting the future productive capacity of the ocean’s ecosystems

  • Ocean assets such as fisheries and shipping lanes are estimated to be worth over $24 trillion and produce an annual value of $2.5 trillion from their outputs
  • 90% of those outputs depend on healthy marine ecosystems for activities such as fishing and coastal tourism
  • Ensuring these ecosystems are protected is vital to be able to continue to reap the economic benefit and for the further economic development of many countries as recognised by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources

Making sense of global scale environmental change and variability

  • The ocean is deeply implicated in many changes which are occurring right across the planet
  • The ocean has taken up 93% of all excess heat that has gone into the earth’s system due to the radiation imbalance at the top of the atmosphere
  • The ocean strongly controls large scale areas of variability including El Nino and the North Atlantic Oscillation.
  • The ocean is absorbing 25% of all CO2 being emitted by fossil fuel burning and land use changes, mitigating global warming, but causing the oceans to become more acidic, especially in cold high latitudes
  • Biodiversity is decreasing across the planet, including in the oceans due to habitat loss, pollution, and over exploitation of resources