Everyone has a stake in our oceans, but our oceans are in trouble. The ones on the front lines scientists, fisheries and marine managers do not readily have all the diagnostic tools needed to understand and protect our oceans. But there are solutions out there…- Dr P. Bunje, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability / Editorial Sea Technology Feb 2014
Global Climate Change and Hydrography
Hydrographic Surveyors. Any definition of the verb to survey can be summarised as: To take (quantitative) stock of a situation. Surveyors, by inference, are the people who are professionals at taking stock. Hydrography has been defined as the science of measuring and depicting those parameters that are necessary to describe the precise nature and configuration of the seabed, its geographical relationship to the landmass and the characteristics and dynamics of the sea. Hydrographic surveyors take stock of the ocean.
Climate change has moved from the realm of the research scientist into the business domain where the question is not about how climate change will affect the planet, but how the changes seen to date and projected future change are effecting, and will affect, businesses and regions.
The hydrographic surveyor is well placed to deliver the quantitative stock taking and understanding of the potential localised effects brought about by changes to the global climate. His or her spatial measurement expertise is already being used to map and describe the changes that are occurring to the Earths ecological and physical systems, and to plan future anthropogenic (human induced) change. Global climate change is one of the many ways that the local environment is altered by humanity and, to unpick the varying drivers of change, accurate observations are needed that provide unequivocal attribution and increase the certainty of predicted future impacts.
This is achieved by ensuring that routine measurements collected for many other purposes are of sufficient quality, and supported by sufficient metadata that they may be re-purposed for long-term or global studies. Data that may have this multiple use should be delivered using the creative commons into the public domain. Our duty as hydrographic surveyors is to be cognisant of this double purpose for our collected data and ensure that it is of sufficient quality and sufficiently well described so as to enable this double use. Our potential as a profession is to be the medium through which the effects of global climate change are described and understood by our clients.
Our modification of the environment through greenhouse gas emissions has set in train a series of global scale changes that will play out over the coming centuries. As a hydrographic surveyor operating under a code of ethics it is our duty to be cognisant of them. With a job to do or a business to run, it is beholden on us to understand the potential changes and understand their potential effects on our business and our clients business.
Downscaling predicted global statements of change to understand local impacts and effects is an area of science fraught with high degrees of uncertainty. In surveying terms, the propagation of errors through the many steps from a robust and peer reviewed global climate model to a regional prediction render this prediction highly unreliable. Yet the impacts of global climate change will be measured locally and only by ensuring observations and measurement are of the highest quality can locally collected data be compared or aggregated at a regional, national or global scale.
Although many climate change effects are discussed in terms of an increase or a decrease of a value of a particular variable, such as temperature or ocean acidity, the gradients seen in the earths system translate this to a spatial shift in ecosystems. Whilst the shift in weather systems is complex resulting in a very variable picture, a 2011 paper in Science magazine reported a median rate of pole ward shift in Australian ecosystems of 1.69Km per year, which is nearly five metres per day! Vertically, ecosystem boundaries are reported to be moving upwards at a median rate of 1.1 metres per year.
The SSSI is THE professional body that understands spatial measurement and analysis, and, as spatial professionals, we should be at the very heart of measuring, describing and understanding the spatial impacts of our changing climate. We must be seen as the go to organisation for information and advice on the spatial impacts of climate change on the ground.
Ecosystem shifts are the summation of many first, second, third ( and onwards to the nth degree) order effects that are initiated by humanities increased green house gas emissions and exacerbated by local, human-induced change. The latter being anything from increased urbanisation, to the replanting of forests or the adoption of water sensitive urban design. Human nature is to change the environment and make it work for us. Now, however, we have to take the long view as the evidence becomes increasingly clear that, as a race of seven billion people, we are negatively impacting our very ability to live on this planet.
We face a rapidly changing future on a planet where our current centres of population may face extreme or chronic changes due to the change in weather patterns. Future settlement or exploitation of our planet will need to be planned and positioned with the utmost care, not just to account for current conditions, but for those conditions that can reasonably be expected in the future. As Spatial Science professionals we should be prepared to present the long view to our clients and adopt the long view in our own business practises. We have always recognised the importance of benchmarks and that baselines are forever changing (being adjusted), therefore going forward we need to be aware that the environment is changing, not randomly, but on a trajectory that can be mapped with a fair degree of certainty. It is time for the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute to be at the forefront of helping Australia to take stock of the situation and map out our future.