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BIOS warns climate change means increased hurricane risk and reef damage

Bermuda and its reef system (File photograph)

The seas around Bermuda have already started to suffer from damage caused by climate change, an island researcher has warned.

Nick Bates, a senior scientist and director of research at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science, said Bermuda’s waters had become warmer, saltier, more acidic and less oxygenated.

He added that there was “no easy fix” for the environmental damage and that conditions would get worse before they got better.

Dr Bates said BIOS had tracked ocean changes since the 1950s and they had accelerated in the last decade.

He added: “In the last ten years, the oceans around Bermuda have warmed by nearly 1°C.

“In the last forty years, the ocean summer – when waters are warmer than 25° C – has increased in length by almost a month, while the winter – when waters are cooler than 22°C – has shortened each year by nearly a month.

“This means Bermuda is more at risk from hurricanes as the season when warm waters surround Bermuda is longer.”

Dr Bates said the upper ocean had lost about eight per cent of its oxygen and the amount of salt in the water had increased.

Dr Bates added: “This means that the biology of the reef system and surrounding Sargasso Sea is changing.

“Ocean acidification also means that the coral reefs of Bermuda now exist in a chemical environment outside the one the reefs lived in 25 to 30 years ago.

“The chemical conditions for the reef system of Bermuda is now much less favourable than it was a few decades ago, and the reef is weaker now as the entire system experiences seasonal periods of dissolution, when the entire reef undergoes what we call net dissolution.”

Dr Bates said: “There is an inertia in the climate system and CO2 emissions and other greenhouses gases which mean even if we significantly reduced emissions now, it takes a couple of decades to reach the peak impact before beginning to recover.

“Acting now reduces the impact in the 2030s and 2040s. If it's business as usual emissions, then the impacts in 2030s and 2040s will be worse.

“Attention to climate change now and over the next decade will reduce the impact for the next generation of children and the poorest nations on the planet.”

He added: “Climate change is not occurring on election-cycle political time frames, but on generational timescales, which means that climate change is with us for decades and individuals and societies will have to focus on the issue for decades.”

Dr Bates was speaking after the latest report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that it was “unequivocal” that human influence had contributed to warmer temperatures.

The report said that the global surface temperature was 1.09C higher in the decade between 2011 and 2020 than it was between 1850 and 1900.

The landmark study warned of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding around the world and that “deep cuts” in carbon dioxide emissions were needed to stabilise increase in temperatures.

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Published August 24, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated August 24, 2021 at 10:02 am)

BIOS warns climate change means increased hurricane risk and reef damage

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