What Turned China's Yellow Sea To Blue-Green?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 2, 2008 9:10 am

Just before the Olympic Games, a 5,000 square mile blue-green carpet has covered China’s Yellow Sea.


The event is likely due to excess nitrates from pollutants like sewage and agricultural run-off, which can act like extra fertilizer for plankton. (Remember The Simpsons?) While Chinese officials blame warmer waters–and yes, it may potentially exacerbate the likelihood of algal blooms–that influence more likely serves to compound the effects of a bad situation.

While it appears this species is not toxic, impacts may still be severe. Algae can deplete surrounding waters of oxygen and result in dead zones where little survives. And it’s not just bad for fish, but socioeconomic implications can ripple out from unemployment in fisheries to the price of dinner.

Reports of the large-scale clean-up are mainly focused on whether this disgusting muck will impede sailing in the Olympics, but I’m afraid that’s not our biggest concern. I’m wondering why algal blooms are occurring around the world with increased severity and frequency than before…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Media and Science

Comments (5)

  1. John McCormick

    One nation’s algal bloom could be another nation’s biofuels feedstock. But, maybe I am getting ahead of myself; by twenty years, at least.

    John McCormick

  2. Sciencefan

    Another nightmare problem that needs to be addressed!

  3. CLM

    This is another example of what happens when people don’t comprehend exponential growth. I saw this YouTube video entitled Are Humans Smarter Than Yeast? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hM1x4RljmnE It gives a very good explanation of the implications of exponential growth, and why it is so difficult to convince people there is a problem when it is still manageable.

  4. bigTom

    Like John, I can’t keep from thinking this stuff should be harvested for biomass. Or perhaps buried to sequester the carbon.

  5. Pierce R. Butler

    Judging from that picture, that body of water should be renamed the Chartreuse Sea.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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