Climate Change and the Ocean


Just as human systems affect the ocean, the ocean affects life on land.

Human systems—like energy production, agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing—are interdependent with the ecosystems and habitats that support life, including the ocean.

Perhaps the most serious stress on the oceans today comes from our dominant way of producing energy. When we burn fossil fuels for energy, it releases carbon dioxide. This gas builds up in the atmosphere, where it traps in heat. This “blanket effect” is increasing, disrupting environmental systems—including our weather. The oceans function like the heart of Earth’s climate system, pumping heat and moisture around the globe. Ocean currents regulate the temperature and precipitation on the continents, shaping the climate that shapes human cultures and activities.

As the stress on the climate’s heart increases, it is “beating” irregularly, and long-standing weather patterns are shifting. Scientists expect stronger storms, more frequent droughts, and increased heat waves, putting people’s health and safety at risk. Some of the rampant carbon dioxide is also being absorbed directly into the sea, changing the ocean’s chemistry. This disruption is causing a variety of problems for different marine species, weakening the food web.

We all have a responsibility to protect the oceans—and we can fulfill that duty. Explore these pages to learn more about what we know about how a changing climate is affecting the oceans, and what the Aquarium and others are doing to make a positive difference, and how we can all act together to protect the blue heart of our climate.

Blue Impact Videos

Expand your students’ knowledge of climate change and draw connections between climate change and changes in the oceans. Originally developed as a tour for visitors to the New England Aquarium, this video series presents the challenges ocean animals face from global climate change, and how communities are working together to make a difference for the blue planet.

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Blue Impact - Introduction

Learn about the science of climate change.

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Coral Breakup—A Tragic Love Story

See how rising ocean temperatures affect corals.

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Thermal Expansion—The Dance of Rising Oceans

Learn how sea levels rise with ocean temperature.

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Sea Jellies Take Over the Ocean Maze

Discover the science of booming jelly populations.

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Shorebirds on Stage

See how changes in weather affect shorebirds.

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Sea Turtles—A Temperature Tale

Learn how rising temperatures threaten sea turtles.

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Whales—Roadwork Ahead

Understand how whales' food sources are changing.

Additional Resources

Student sheets and teacher answer keys can be found to the right of each video.

Teacher answer key (PDF 47KB)

Glossary (PDF 56KB)

Take action! videos