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Can Ocean Technology Turn Back Climate Change?

Can Ocean Technology Turn Back Climate Change?

2023 was a banner year for climate change — and not in a good way.

Depressing opening lines aside, there is hope! And at INBOUND 2023 Peter de Menocal, President and Director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, laid out the current state of climate affairs, what is currently being done to offset negative impacts, and how the ocean is helping shape the path forward.

As 2023 witnessed extreme climate phenomena (from the wildfires in Canada and the record-breaking ocean temperature in Florida waters to torrential downpours at Burning Man), de Menocal’s expertise offered a timely take on why understanding the ocean’s influence on global climate is more crucial than ever — read on for more of his insights.


De Menocal opened his session with a hot (pun not intended) take: if Earth had a natural cooling system, it would be the ocean. Not only is it home to an extensive ecosystem of marine life, it acts as a climate buffer — absorbing and distributing excess heat and skyrocketing carbon dioxide levels across the globe. He went on to explain that the ocean’s heat absorption capacity is thousands times greater than the atmosphere which helps moderate temperatures and weather patterns.

“The takeaway point for today is that the ocean is the single biggest cog of the planet…”

One thing that can’t be emphasized enough? The health of our oceans is directly connected to the health of our planet.


The only thing predictable about current weather forecasts is that the future looks unpredictable, thanks to climate change. It’s been an unsettling year of climate extremes — cue Canadian wildfires and consecutive days of record-breaking heat in Arizona to name a few.

“Whatever extremes we're seeing this year, they're nothing compared to what we'll see at the end of the century... the point is to really focus on how we're going to fix this.”

The planet is under pressure and de Menocal connected the dots of these climate anomalies making one thing clear: these events are accelerating and they are a wake up call.


What’s driving our weather wild? Hint → 🙋. De Menocal provided a clear distinction between natural and human-induced factors driving climate change, however, human activities — and more specifically, the emission of greenhouse gases — has overtaken the natural factors as the main force behind the recent warming trend. He emphasized that it’s not just about acknowledging our role but understanding the scale of impact compared to natural factors (like volcanic activity and El Nino patterns).

Ultimately his analysis served as a lesson and warning that the current path we are on is unsustainable, but not irreversible — setting the stage for ocean-based solutions.


Can underwater forests be the key to fighting climate change? According to de Menocal, that’s exactly the kind of innovative thinking we need to champion. He explored ocean-based solutions such as seaweed farming and artificial upwelling as opportunities to harness the seas for the high stakes situation we find ourselves in.

“The ocean, without us asking it to do anything, is already by far the biggest buffer on climate change that we have. It takes up also 93 percent of the excess heating from global warming. So the ocean is a climate hero. And that's one of the really big takeaways from today.”

These scalable techniques for marine carbon dioxide removal could play crucial roles in reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. De Menocal shined a light on how targeted interventions can leverage the ocean’s natural processes to help restore climate system balance.


Looking ahead, de Menocal emphasized the importance of advancing ocean science through technology and collaboration. A major player in that future is the Ocean Vital Signs Network which aims to establish a comprehensive monitoring system for ocean health — and could revolutionize our understanding and management of marine environments. Providing real-time surveillance through sensors could enable scientists to turn critical data into action against climate change.


Despite the extreme climate outlook, de Menocal’s message was clear: the ocean is not just part of the climate solution, it is central to it. By supporting research and ocean-based solutions that protect our blue planet, we can make substantial progress in combating climate change.



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