Visualizing the Human Impact on our Ocean Economy
When you think of economic output, it’s likely the ocean isn’t the first entity that comes to mind. But from facilitating international trade to regulating the climate, the “blue economy” contributes significant value in both tangible and intangible ways.
The sustainable use of the ocean and its resources for economic development and livelihoods have such far-reaching effects, that its protection is a significant goal of the United Nations, as well as for many other countries and organizations throughout the world.
However, these vital ocean assets are in danger of sinking quickly. Ahead of World Oceans Day on June 8, 2020, we look at the total value of assets that come from our ocean, and how various human activities are affecting these resources.
Global Ocean Asset Value
Economic value from all the oceans is measured both by their direct output, as well as any indirect impacts they produce.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, these combined assets are valued at over $24 trillion. Here’s how they break down:
- Direct Output: Marine fisheries, coral reefs, seagrass, and mangroves
Total value: $6.9T
Examples of direct output: Fishing, agriculture
- Trade and Transport: Shipping lanes
Total value: $5.2T
- Adjacent Assets: Productive coastline, carbon absorption
Total value: $7.8T, and $4.3T respectively
Examples of services enabled: Tourism, education/conservation (such as jobs created)
In fact, the annual gross marine product of the oceans is comparable to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of countries, coming in at $2.5 trillion per year—making it the world’s eighth largest economy in country terms.
Unfortunately, experts warn that various human activities are endangering these ocean assets and their reliant ecosystems.
The Cumulative Human Impact on Oceans
An 11-year long scientific study tracked the global effect of multiple human activities across diverse marine environments. The researchers identified four main categories of stressors between 2003-2013.
- Climate change: Sea surface temperature, ocean acidification, and sea level rise
- Ocean: Shipping
- Land-based: Nutrient pollution, organic chemical pollution, direct human pollution, light pollution
- Fishing: Commercial and artisanal fishing, including trawling methods
Across the board, climate stressors were the most dominant drivers of change in a majority of marine environments. Similarly, pollution levels have also increased for many ecosystems.
Plastic pollution is especially damaging, as it continues to grow at unprecedented rates, with a significant amount ending up in the oceans. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight.
Among the various marine environments, coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves proved to be most at-risk, experiencing the fastest increase in cumulative human impact. However, these are also the same ecosystems that we rely on for their direct economic output.
Overall, climate-induced declines in ocean health could cost the global economy $428 billion annually by 2050.
The Ocean Economy is in Hot Water
It can be difficult to truly understand the scale at which we rely on the ocean for climate regulation. The ocean is a major “carbon sink”, absorbing nearly 30% of the carbon emitted by human activity. But acidity levels and rising sea surface temperatures are changing its chemistry, and reducing its ability to dissolve CO₂.
According to the UN, ocean acidification has grown by 26% since pre-industrial times. At our current rates, it could rise to 100-150% by the end of the century. Overfishing is another urgent threat that shows no signs of slowing down, with sustainable fish stocks declining from 90% to 66.9% in just over 40 years.
To try and counteract these issues, this year’s virtual World Oceans Day is focused on “Innovation for a Sustainable Oceans” to discuss various solutions, including how the private sector can work with communities to maintain the blue economy. In addition, there’s a petition in place to urge world leaders to help protect 30% of the natural world by 2030.
Will our human activities continue to stress the ocean economy, or will we be able to positively reverse these trends in the years to come?
Visualizing the Depth of the Great Lakes
The five Great Lakes account for 21% of the world’s total freshwater. This bathymetric visualization dives into just how deep they are.
Visualized: The Depth of The Great Lakes
Click here to view the interactive version of the visualization on Tableau.
As the seasons change, it’s natural to want to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest. The Great Lakes, a distinct geographical region sandwiched between the U.S. and Canada, provides immense opportunity for millions of tourists to do just that every year.
But did you know that altogether the Great Lakes contain 21% of the world’s surface freshwater by volume—or 84% of the surface freshwater in North America?
This bathymetric visualization, created by Alex Varlamov, helps put the sheer size and depth of all five of the Great Lakes into perspective.
What is Bathymetry?
Bathymetry is the study of the underwater depth of ocean or lake floors, a geographical science that falls under the wider umbrella of hydrography.
In essence, it is the underwater equivalent of topography. Contour lines help to represent and study the physical features of bodies of water, from oceans to lakes.
Most bathymetric studies are conducted via sonar systems, transmitting pulses that ‘ping’ off the ocean and lake floor, uncovering what lies below.
The Depth of the Great Lakes, Compared
High on the list of the world’s largest lakes, the five Great Lakes altogether account for over 244,700 km² (94,250 mi²) in total surface area. That’s bigger than the entire United Kingdom.
Lake Superior emerges, well, superior in terms of total surface area, water volume, and both average and maximum depth.
|Surface area||Water volume||Average depth||Maximum depth|
|Lake Ontario||19,000 km²|
|Lake Erie||25,700 km²|
|Lake Michigan||58,000 km²|
|Lake Huron||60,000 km²|
|Lake Superior||82,000 km²|
Lake Erie is by far the shallowest of the lakes, with an average depth of just 19 meters (62 ft). That means on average, Lake Superior is about eight times deeper.
With that in mind, one drawback of the visualization is that it doesn’t provide an accurate view of how deep these lakes are in relation to one another.
For that, check out this additional visualization also created by Alex Varlamov, which is scaled to the same 20 meter step—in this view, Lake Erie practically disappears.
More than Meets the Eye
The Great Lakes are not only notable for their form, but also their function—they’re a crucial waterway contributing to the economy of the area, supporting over 50 million jobs and contributing $6 trillion to gross domestic product (GDP).
Together, the five Great Lakes feed into the Atlantic Ocean—and when we expand the scope to compare these lakes to vast oceans, trenches, and drill holes, the depth of the Great Lakes barely scratches the surface.
Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining
Bitcoin mining requires significant amounts of energy, but what does this consumption look like when compared to countries and companies?
Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining
Cryptocurrencies have been some of the most talked-about assets in recent months, with bitcoin and ether prices reaching record highs. These gains were driven by a flurry of announcements, including increased adoption by businesses and institutions.
Lesser known, however, is just how much electricity is required to power the Bitcoin network. To put this into perspective, we’ve used data from the University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI) to compare Bitcoin’s power consumption with a variety of countries and companies.
Why Does Bitcoin Mining Require So Much Power?
When people mine bitcoins, what they’re really doing is updating the ledger of Bitcoin transactions, also known as the blockchain. This requires them to solve numerical puzzles which have a 64-digit hexadecimal solution known as a hash.
Miners may be rewarded with bitcoins, but only if they arrive at the solution before others. It is for this reason that Bitcoin mining facilities—warehouses filled with computers—have been popping up around the world.
These facilities enable miners to scale up their hashrate, also known as the number of hashes produced each second. A higher hashrate requires greater amounts of electricity, and in some cases can even overload local infrastructure.
Putting Bitcoin’s Power Consumption Into Perspective
On March 18, 2021, the annual power consumption of the Bitcoin network was estimated to be 129 terawatt-hours (TWh). Here’s how this number compares to a selection of countries, companies, and more.
|Name||Population||Annual Electricity Consumption (TWh)|
|All of the world’s data centers||-||205|
|State of New York||19.3M||161|
|Walt Disney World Resort (Florida)||-||1|
Note: A terawatt hour (TWh) is a measure of electricity that represents 1 trillion watts sustained for one hour.
Source: Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, Science Mag, New York ISO, Forbes, Facebook, Reedy Creek Improvement District, Worldometer
If Bitcoin were a country, it would rank 29th out of a theoretical 196, narrowly exceeding Norway’s consumption of 124 TWh. When compared to larger countries like the U.S. (3,989 TWh) and China (6,543 TWh), the cryptocurrency’s energy consumption is relatively light.
For further comparison, the Bitcoin network consumes 1,708% more electricity than Google, but 39% less than all of the world’s data centers—together, these represent over 2 trillion gigabytes of storage.
Where Does This Energy Come From?
In a 2020 report by the University of Cambridge, researchers found that 76% of cryptominers rely on some degree of renewable energy to power their operations. There’s still room for improvement, though, as renewables account for just 39% of cryptomining’s total energy consumption.
Here’s how the share of cryptominers that use each energy type vary across four global regions.
|Energy Source||Asia-Pacific||Europe||Latin America|
and the Caribbean
Source: University of Cambridge
Editor’s note: Numbers in each column are not meant to add to 100%
Hydroelectric energy is the most common source globally, and it gets used by at least 60% of cryptominers across all four regions. Other types of clean energy such as wind and solar appear to be less popular.
Coal energy plays a significant role in the Asia-Pacific region, and was the only source to match hydroelectricity in terms of usage. This can be largely attributed to China, which is currently the world’s largest consumer of coal.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge noted that they weren’t surprised by these findings, as the Chinese government’s strategy to ensure energy self-sufficiency has led to an oversupply of both hydroelectric and coal power plants.
Towards a Greener Crypto Future
As cryptocurrencies move further into the mainstream, it’s likely that governments and other regulators will turn their attention to the industry’s carbon footprint. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.
Mike Colyer, CEO of Foundry, a blockchain financing provider, believes that cryptomining can support the global transition to renewable energy. More specifically, he believes that clustering cryptomining facilities near renewable energy projects can mitigate a common issue: an oversupply of electricity.
“It allows for a faster payback on solar projects or wind projects… because they would [otherwise] produce too much energy for the grid in that area”
– Mike Colyer, CEO, Foundry
This type of thinking appears to be taking hold in China as well. In April 2020, Ya’an, a city located in China’s Sichuan province, issued a public guidance encouraging blockchain firms to take advantage of its excess hydroelectricity.
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