At school you receive report cards to keep track of how you’re going and to identify strengths and weaknesses. Report cards are good for students – what about our oceans?

The 2012 Marine Climate Change in Australia Report Card was released last week. It includes information on factors such as ocean temperatures, sea levels, ocean currents and the El Niño Southern Oscillation. It also includes the impacts these may have on marine plants, animals and microbes.

The report card isn’t the work of a few researchers – over 80 Australian marine scientists from 34 research institutions, including the CSIRO, contributed research to the report card. Why so many people? The reason is that scientists tend to specialise. For instance, a marine scientist may be an expert on ocean currents, but know very little about fish. The report card covers such a wide range of scientific disciplines that many experts were needed.

The report card is also different from many other scientific announcements in that it is not the result of a single experiment or group of experiments. Instead, it brings together the observations, results and conclusions from hundreds of scientists. This is useful as it means that the information closely reflects the current opinions of the scientific community.

The report card doesn’t just include observations, it also includes predictions. These both have a confidence rating from low to high. Science is not always clear-cut. Ideally, scientists will clearly communicate how confident they are in their results and conclusions. Some of the observations and predictions in the report card have a high level of confidence, while others only have a low level. By increasing the data from experiment and observation scientists can increase the confidence in their conclusions.

The previous report card was published in 2009. The 2012 report card confirmed that climate change is already affecting our oceans, which is in turn affecting marine life in different ways. It also included some ways that people are already adapting to the effects that climate change is having on our oceans and marine life. Report cards such as these are useful for drawing together results from a large number of studies into one place and for keeping track of how our oceans are changing. Hopefully in years to come, our oceans’ grades will start improving.

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