OCEAN INFLAMMATION


In 1833 American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote:
The Ocean has its silent caves,
Deep, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves Beneath them there is none…
The earth has guilt, the earth has care,         Unquiet are its graves;
But peaceful sleep is ever there,                    Beneath the dark blue waves.1

This sombre sleep of the ocean is passing with the arrival of an era of hot disturbance. The ocean is inflaming. The vast liquid is slowly but perceivably puffing – enlargement on a planetary scale. A rising, a liquid blistering. Ocean Inflammation is a recognition of the fact that sea level rise due to climate change is primarily caused by two distinct physical phenomena. The first and more widely understood of these is the melting of land ice; the second is the expansion of seawater as it warms. This expansion can be considered a kind of global ocean inflammation, with associations of higher-than-normal temperature and swelling. This term can help clarify what happens to water as it heats up. Water is a unique substance, it contracts when it is heated from ice’s melting point up to 4 degrees Celsius. (The water molecules get closer together and the water occupies less volume.) However, like most other liquids and gases, water expands as it is heated further above 4 degrees. Surface ocean temperatures are typically significantly above this 4 degrees mark.

 1. Nathaniel Hawthorne, ‘The ocean’ (1825), The Mariner’s Library or Voyager’s Companion (Boston: Lilly, Wait, Colman and Holden, 1833).
Mark