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San Diego researchers hope to spotlight ocean at UN climate conference

San Diego researchers hope the ocean gets the attention it is due when the world’s leaders meet to discuss the planet’s climate in November.

The United Nations 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) convenes in Egypt soon and the oceanographers hope the ocean’s impact on the planet’s climate is a key talking point.

The ocean covers more than 70% of the planet’s surface and it absorbs both carbon and heat.

“The ocean plays a central role in climate,” said Margaret Leinen, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO). “And what oceanographic institutions have wanted for a long time for the ocean to play a central role in the climate discussions.”

As part of the effort, SIO, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and 15 other organizations from around the world are setting up an ocean pavilion in the COP27’s main convention building that will serve as a hub for attendees to focus discussions on the ocean.

“Earth is an ocean planet,” said WHOI President and Director Peter de Menocal. “The ocean gives us the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It also provides jobs for billions of people, including many of the world's most vulnerable. It’s only natural that the ocean should also be at the center of discussions about the sustainability of human activity on Earth, including how it can help stabilize the global climate system at a safe level."

The November event, which has happened every year since 1995, is expected to draw more than 35,000 participants during its two-week run.

The leaders come from nearly 200 countries, as well as representatives from industry, trade, transportation, labor and more.

“The ocean is too big and too complicated for any one organization to go it alone,” de Menocal said. “We will only succeed by joining diverse perspectives to find solutions together.”

Leinen says the ocean took a backseat during the early conferences, when scientists focused mainly on man-made emissions of greenhouse gasses. However, scientists are increasingly recognizing the role the ocean plays in the planet’s climate system.

Some researchers have expressed concern about the ocean’s ability to help regulate the climate by absorbing heat and carbon, But there is concern that may be changing.

“It may not be able to buffer us from all of the extremes that it has been able to do in the past,” Leinen said.

The ocean has absorbed a significant amount of carbon and heat in recent decades, and watching the ocean adapt is a key to understanding how a warming climate will change the planet.

The climate news isn’t all pessimistic according to Leinen.

“The ocean’s resilience, our adaptability and our commitment to change really give me great optimism,” Leinen said.

The conference is responsible for key agreements, the Kyoto Accords and the Paris Agreement, which are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global temperatures from climbing.

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