Year in Review

Sandy might be the turning point whereby politicians, insurance companies, developers, and planners might accept the actuality of sea level rise...and realize that it is in their best interest to adapt and invent a reconstruction that is vital and viable in a different world.

The year-end is a time for review and resolution. As with everything from movies to political events, pundits and publications tout their “ten best” stories, reminding of us of important things that have occurred, should be remembered and considered again, and should not otherwise be lost in the vast, tortuous, cacophonous maelstrom that is the news cycle in this world of constant information. World Ocean Observatory, then, as part of that flow, should aspire to add its thoughts, however small and quiet they may be.  So here, from our perspective, are five representative ocean events for the year 2012.

Number 1
First and foremost, of course, is Superstorm Sandy, the biggest, most damaging, life-taking, closest to home, closest to the financial and communications center of the nation and the world, event in history. Its reality was and continues to be devastating. The response by everyone has been heroic and astonishingly effective, the re-opening of various tunnels, subway lines, the NY Stock Exchange, and much more that was accomplished with stunning speed and efficiency. This does not lessen, not at all, the other damage in coastal New Jersey, Hoboken, the Rockaways, and Long Island where houses, businesses, and entire economies were swept away, the destruction remaining as an ugly reminder of real pain and of what might happen again.  Sandy launched an urgent new dialogue about rebuilding – what, why and how – about federal flood insurance and future economic development now inevitably at risk due to sea level rise and the additional storms certain to follow. Sandy might be the turning point whereby politicians, insurance companies, developers, and planners might accept the actuality of sea level rise so dramatically asserted and realize that it is in their best interest to adapt and invent a reconstruction that is vital and viable in a different world. 

Number 2
As a stunning correlative to Sandy, is the revelation by NOAA that as the Arctic sea summer melt season came to an end in mid-September, the ice extent had shrunk to just 1.3 million square miles, setting a new record low that was 18 percent smaller than the previous record and nearly 50 percent smaller than the long-term (1979-2000) average. According to the NOAA report, “The most profound physical impact of ice loss is that it becomes a sort of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ Less ice turns Arctic latitudes from a bright white solar reflector into a dark expanse of open water. … The more ice that melts, the more sunlight the ocean absorbs. The more sunlight the ocean absorbs, the warmer it gets, and the more ice melts.” That self-reinforcing feedback loop is the heart of the process that scientists refer to as “Arctic amplification” and is a major contributor to measurable global warming.

Number 3
Is the announcement by Australia of the creation of the world’s largest ocean park, a designation of marine reserves equaling 2.3 million square miles of ocean environment that will be subject to conservation management practice and will limit fishing and oil and gas exploration. According to Ocean News and Technology, “the reserves will now surround the entire continent of Australia, including the island of Tasmania.”  This is an extraordinary conservation commitment and achievement.

Number 4
Is the discovery of sixteen new submarine hydro-thermal vents by the largest and longest Chinese ocean research expedition involving 218 scientists and 32 research organizations for 369 days at sea in the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. China’s maritime interests are growing rapidly, in such areas as underwater exploration, marine science and oceanography, offshore extraction technology, nautical archaeology, and a serious expansion of its naval fleet and global reach at sea.

Number 5
Is the final commissioning of the largest offshore wind-farm in the world by Walney Offshore Windfarms Ltd, comprising 102 Siemens turbines, foundations, export and array cables, offshore substations and onshore connection to the grid, located approximately 15 km off Walney Island, Cumbria, in the Irish Sea in the United Kingdom. The total generation capacity equals 367.2 megawatts, and will provide clean electricity to 320,000 UK households, reduce CO2 emissions, and contribute significantly to the national goal for carbon reduction through alternative energy development.

Each of these examples should provoke our thinking about and behavior toward the ocean. We must understand that Nature will not wait for our politics or indecision or petty vested interest; that proof of warming with all its long-predicted impact on polar ice, ecosystem change, and the ocean food chain is real and visible now; that we must take immediate and large scale action to conserve, protect, and manage ocean resources that are still pristine; that we must continue to research and explore the ocean as a global resource that cannot be dominated by any single nation or interest; and that we must use the value that the ocean gives us to confront the bankrupt policies of the past and to invest in the future.


Peter Neill, Director of the W2O and host of World Ocean Radio, provides coverage of a broad spectrum of ocean issues from science and education to advocacy and exemplary projects.