The 8th of June marked the 12th “World Oceans Day” — this time it ran under a special motto: 2021 is also the start of the United Nations’ “Decade of Ocean Research for Sustainable Development” … Reason enough for us to dedicate the first Valdivia Special to this topic.
The world’s oceans — Life’s Foundation and Climate Saviour
When German research vessel Valdivia set sail on 31 July 1898, the United Nations was but a distant dream. Yet, even then, scientists like expedition leader Carl Chun (1852 — 1914, born in Höchst, today Frankfurt am Main) were convinced that the world’s oceans were of immense importance to humankind. And right he was: Today, the oceans are an important source of food, energy, raw materials, active ingredients for medicines and, last but not least, a space for sport and recreation.
After going very much unnoticed in the past, another capacity of the ocean is currently gaining in importance: the water of the oceans also absorbs a considerable amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, about 2.6 billion tonnes every year, corresponding to approx. 31 percent of man-made CO2 emissions. However, it is unclear how long the oceans are oing to be able to absorb this amount. CO2 dissolved in water also increases the acidity of the water – with potentially severe consequences for many sea creatures, as any aquarist can confirm.
The UN Decade of Ocean Exploration
The United Nations has set up a framework for co-ordinating a wide variety of research projects in the decade from now until 2030. In addition to biological, meteorological and other classic tasks, economic and social aspects are impacting ocean research more and more: the shipping industry, fisheries, aquacultures as well as coastal residents and the tourism industry all benefit from the results. When the first World Ocean Assessment was published in 2016, significant changes and losses in the structure, function, and benefits of the oceans were already being observed. Therefore, science-based measures to mitigate and adapt to global change are urgently needed in the coming decades.
The goal of the UN Decade is first to coordinate existing know-how, make better use of it and feed it into political decisions. To be more precise, this means that digital scenarios and models are to be developed which, through improved predictions, will help decision-makers in politics and business to select the best, future-proof and sustainable measures in each case. Long-term goals include the elimination of ocean pollution, a more accurate understanding of climate impacts, and a sustainable Blue Economy in which use, understanding and responsibility go hand in hand.