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1 Living with the oceans. – A report on the state of the world's oceans

WOR 1

Living with the oceans.
> This first “World Ocean Review” is published in 2010 and will be followed by periodic updates in the future. The result is a comprehensive, detailed and unique report about the state of the world’s oceans and their interplay with ecological, economic and sociopolitical conditions. Its aim is to increase public awareness of the interconnected nature of the diverse aspects of the marine environment and thus to boost marine conservation.

The world oceans, global climate drivers

> The oceans cover around 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface. They thus play an important role in the Earth’s climate and in global warming. One important function of the oceans is to transport heat from the tropics to higher latitudes. They respond very slowly to changes in the atmosphere. Beside heat, they take up large amounts of the carbon dioxide emitted by humankind.

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How climate change alters ocean chemistry

> Massive emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere have an impact on the chemical and biological processes in the ocean. The warming of ocean water could lead to a destabilization of solid methane deposits on the sea floor. Because of the excess CO2, the oceans are becoming more acidic. Scientists are making extensive measurements to determine how much of the humanmade CO2 is being absorbed by the oceans. Important clues are provided by looking at oxygen.

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The uncertain future of the coasts

> It is now accepted that global warming will result in a significant sea-level rise in future, with many low-lying coastal areas around the world being lost to the sea over the coming centuries. The wealthy industrialized countries will be able to defend themselves from the encroaching waters for a time, albeit with massive technological effort. In the long term, however, they too will have to withdraw back from the areas under threat or, alternatively, adapt to rising water levels.

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Last stop: The ocean – polluting the seas

> Human society inevitably generates immense amounts of waste arising from the production and utilization of food as well as industrial and consumer goods. A considerable amount of this waste eventually ends up in the oceans. Fortunately, the pollution from oil has been decreasing in recent years. But the increasing load of nutrients and pollutants and general littering of the oceans are a growing cause for concern

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Climate change impacts on marine ecosystems

> There can be no doubt that climate change will alter marine life. Changes in ecosystems usually have multiple natural causes, but increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and global warming are now playing a critical role. The extent of the coming disruption to biotic communities is unknown.

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Exploiting a living resource: Fisheries

> For decades, the catch from the world’s fisheries steadily increased – with the result that many fish stocks are now classified as overexploited or depleted. Failed fisheries policies and poor fisheries management are to blame for this situation. Short-term profits appear to take priority over the development of a low-impact, sustainable fisheries sector that will remain economically viable in the long term.

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Marine minerals and energy

> Our appetite for energy and mineral resources seems insatiable. As landbased resources become increasingly scarce, those in the oceans are attracting greater interest. The fuels and ores in the deep sea are particularly tempting. But wind and wave power could also meet a proportion of our energy needs.

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Maritime highways of global trade

> The volume of maritime traffic increased significantly over recent decades, but the global economic crisis brought the industry to its knees. Now there are promising signals for a recovery, however, nobody knows what the future holds for the process of globalization, the global imbalances still linger on and the world of finance continues to be in a fragile state. The growing threats of piracy and terrorism could also compromise shipping.

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Medical knowledge from the sea

> Marine organisms such as bacteria, corals and sea sponges contain thousands of interesting substances that could provide us with the medications of the future. Some of these agents have already been approved as drugs. Research on primordial organisms can reveal both how diseases occur and how they can be treated. Before the treasure trove beneath the sea can be claimed, however, some legal issues must be resolved.

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The law of the sea: A powerful instrument

> Today, a raft of international treaties determines which state has jurisdiction over coastal waters and the seabed and where a country’s fishing fleet may legally operate. However, the extraction of mineral resources from the ocean floor and climate change are confronting the international law of the sea with new challenges. Balancing the protection of the marine environment with intensive use of the oceans is also a difficult task.

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