Tag: ocean acidification

Hey Look What's Making News!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 2, 2010 6:44 pm

I’ve been writing and speaking about ocean acidification for a long time. And will continue. Now at CNN:

The chemistry of the world’s oceans is changing at a rate not seen for 65 million years, with far-reaching implications for marine biodiversity and food security, according to a new United Nations study released Thursday.”Environmental Consequences of Ocean Acidification,” published by the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP),” warns that some sea organisms including coral and shellfish will find it increasingly difficult to survive, as acidification shrinks the minerals needed to form their skeletons.

Lead author of the report Carol Turley, from the UK’s Plymouth Marine Laboratory said in a statement: “We are seeing an overall negative impact from ocean acidification directly on organisms and on some key ecosystems that help provide food for billions. We need to start thinking about the risk to food security.”

Damn straight. Read the full article here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Environment, Marine Science

The Sea Cucumber Shall Inherit the Earth

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 27, 2010 11:29 am

Sheril's Pictures 181..okay not exactly. But anyone who reads The Intersection regularly likely knows I have an affinity for the sea cucumber–the charismatic little critter I studied in graduate school up at UMaine. What I haven’t shared previously is that because I worked on them for years, I also became extremely sensitive to the toxin they produce–as many researchers working with different echinoderms do. In fact, I am now severely allergic to cucumaria frondosa. Needless to say, you don’t want to mess with them.

So I’m not surprised to learn that unlike many species at risk from ocean acidification–already adversely affecting marine organisms like clown fish–echinoderms seem to be less vulnerable. From the BBC:

When the animals, known as echinoderms, were exposed to water high in carbon dioxide early in their lives, there were no adverse effects.

Echinoderms are a diverse group that includes sea cucumbers and starfish.

Their natural resilience could represent a competitive advantage under some climate change scenarios.

Hence, as ocean acidification threatens the marine realm, the meek cucumber may be alright in the end. That is, if we don’t overharvest them first. Read the full article here

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Marine Science

The Other Carbon Dioxide Problem

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 16, 2010 10:31 am

I am pleased that my post last week on ocean acidification received a good deal of attention around the web because this critical subject rarely makes news. I’d also like to point readers to the National Academies latest podcast on the very same topic and encourage everyone to listen and share the episode. Here’s a synopsis:

Ocean Acidification: The Other Carbon Dioxide Problem (Tue, 14 Sep 2010 12:06:39 -0400)

The ocean has absorbed a significant portion of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions. This benefits human society by moderating the rate of climate change, but also causes unprecedented changes to ocean chemistry. Carbon dioxide taken up by the ocean makes the water more acidic and leads to a suite of chemical changes collectively known as ocean acidification. The long term consequences of ocean acidification are not known, but are expected to result in changes to many ecosystems and the services they provide to society. This podcast gives an overview of the current state of knowledge, explores gaps in understanding, and identifies several key findings.  Read the Report Online

All of the NAS Sounds of Science podcasts can be found here.

Ocean Acidifi-WHAT?!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 8, 2010 10:37 am

As I continue to speak around the country, I frequently ask if those in the audience who have heard of ocean acidification will kindly raise their hands. Sometimes a few do. More often I get blank stares. I’ve been writing about this subject for as long as I’ve been blogging. Longer if you count Senate memos and grad school projects over much of the past decade. Acidification is a huge deal. It’s as serious as climate change, which–despite Mr. Morano’s sorry efforts at special interest propaganda–is indeed a very real threat to biodiversity. Humans included.

So time for another post on what ocean acidification is, how it affects our world, and why this matters. It needs to become prominent on the national radar and a priority in policy discussions. I intend to keep blogging about it until more hands go up in the room. With that, another edition of:

Ocean Acidification 101

Most of us are aware that we’ve been adding lots of CO2 to the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels, land-use changes, and more. But carbon dioxide is also absorbed in oceans and taken up by terrestrial plants. Initially, the marine realm served to mitigate climate change, but over time, excess accumulated CO2 has disrupted a long-established system of environmental checks and balances.

You see, in oceans, all of that dissolved carbon dioxide interacts with carbonic acid, bicarbonate, and carbonate. This leads to a decrease in overall pH making the them less basic. Readers who maintain aquariums likely know that monitoring pH is important for the well-being of the critters inside. The same goes for oceans. Read More

A Letter on Ocean Acidification

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 16, 2009 8:46 am

I received the letter that follows from ocean champions Randy Repass and Sally-Christine Rodgers of West Marine and Oceana.  They actively work toward promoting ocean conservation around the world by supporting students and getting the right folks involved on the ground, so I encourage you to read below and consider contacting your representatives in Congress and local newspapers–asking them to pay more attention to ocean acidification! Today several ocean and environmental bloggers have agreed to co-publish this piece and I hope many others will join usword is spreading fast! Finally, special thanks to Randy and Sally-Christine for all of their wonderful oceans work!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We are both lifelong boaters.  What we have learned from sailing across the Pacific over the past 6 years, and especially from scientists focused on marine conservation, is startling.  Whether you spend time on the water or not, Ocean Acidification affects all of us and is something we believe you will want to know about.

What would you do if you knew that many species of fish and other marine life in the ocean will be gone within 30 years if levels of C02 continue increasing at their present rate? We believe you would take action to stop this from happening, because informed people make informed choices. This letter is about what we can and must do together now to help solve a very serious but little-known problem, Ocean Acidification.

Ocean Acidification is primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels.  When carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ends up in the ocean it changes the pH, making the sea acidic and less hospitable to life. Over time, C02 reduces calcium carbonate, which prevents creatures from forming shells and building reefs. In fact, existing shells will start to dissolve. Oysters and mussels will not be able to build shells.  Crabs and lobsters?  Your great-grandchildren may wonder what they tasted like.

Carbon dioxide concentrated in the oceans is making seawater acidic.  Many of the zooplankton, small animals at the base of the food web, have skeletons that won’t form in these conditions, and sea-life further up the food chain – fish, mammals and seabirds that rely on zooplankton for food will also perish. No food – no life.  One billion people rely on seafood for their primary source of protein.  Many scientific reports document that worldwide, humans are already consuming more food than is being produced.  The implications are obvious.

The issue of Ocean Acidification is causing irreversible loss to species and habitats, and acidification trends are happening up to ten times faster than projected.  We want you to know what this means, how it affects all of us, and what we can do about it.

Today, the atmospheric concentration of C02 is about 387 parts per million (ppm) and increasing at 2 ppm per year.  If left unaddressed, by 2040 it is projected to be over 450 ppm, and marine scientists believe the collapse of many ocean ecosystems will be irreversible. Acidification has other physiological effects on marine life as well, including changes in reproduction, growth rates, and even respiration in fish.

Tropical and coldwater corals are among the oldest and largest living structures on earth; the richest in terms of biodiversity, they provide spawning areas, nursery habitat and feeding grounds for a quarter of all species in the sea. Coral reefs are at risk!  As C02 concentrations increase, corals, shellfish and other species that make shells will not be able to build their skeletons and will likely become extinct.

The good news is we can fix this problem. But, as you guessed, it will be difficult.  Ocean Acidification is caused by increased C02 in the atmosphere.  Solving one will solve the other.  The House of Representatives has acted, passing HR 2454, the Waxman-Markey “American Clean Energy and Security Act”, but it was severely weakened.  Now the Senate has announced that it will move similar legislation this fall.  We need the Senate to join the House in its leadership, but to demand far greater emissions reductions than were able to pass the House.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that in order to stabilize C02 in the atmosphere at 350 ppm by 2050, global carbon emissions need to be cut 85% below 2000 levels.”That’s a very tall order! And the way our political system works (or doesn’t) makes its tougher.  It will take all of us to step up and take responsibility to make this happen.

Here is what you can do: Contact your Senator now using ont of these techniques listed in order of effectiveness.

1. Visit your Senator at their local office. It is easy to make an appointment. Tell them your concerns about C02 and the oceans, and to move strong climate legislation immediately that will reduce our greenhouse gas concentrations to levels that will not threaten our oceans. The experience is rewarding. (Alternatively, drop a letter off at their local office.)

2. Call your Senator and leave a message urging action be taken to reduce C02 , address Ocean Acidification, and move strong climate legislation immediately that will reduce our greenhouse gas concentrations to levels that will not threaten our oceans.

3. Click on this link to send an email, which will go directly to your Senator based on your address: http://www.oceana.org/acid

You may use the letter provided, but it is more effective to edit it, and in your own words urge them to move strong climate legislation immediately that will reduce our greenhouse gas concentrations to levels that will not threaten our oceans.

Ocean Acidification is an issue we can do something about.  We need a groundswell of informed citizens to get Congress to have the backbone to stand up to the entrenched interests of coal, oil, and gas and not compromise on the reduction of C02.  We also need real leadership to aggressively create jobs using sustainable technologies. The choice is ours.  We can solve this or not.  What we do know is that the future facing our children, grandchildren and indeed all of humankind depends on our decision.

Please join us in sharing this letter with others.  We appreciate your taking the time to contact your Senators; it is easy to do and effective.

Thank you for your support.

Randy Repass                                                     
Chairman                                                   
West Marine
               
Sally-Christine Rodgers
                                                    
Board Member                                                     
Oceana
A more complete report on ocean acidification here: http://oceana.org/fileadmin/oceana/uploads/Climate_Change/Acid_Test_Report/Acidification_Report.pdf

The Guardian Gets It Wrong

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | March 10, 2009 1:04 pm

The Guardian:

Human pollution is turning the seas into acid so quickly that the coming decades will recreate conditions not seen on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs, scientists will warn today.

Say what?! Look, ocean acidification is a VERY real threat to our planet. That said, the seas are not turning to acid! (But gee, way to scare folks into envisioning the demise of the wicked witch!) This demonstrates a lack of taking the time to explore and understand what ocean acidification means–the term is used to describe the way the pH of oceans is becoming less basic as they absorb excess CO2. Yes, it is an enormous and extremely frightening problem because of potential implications for organisms that depend on calcium carbonate like corals, algae, oysters and on… Scientists are already observing changes in survival and behavior of aquatic animals and because we are all connected through trophic interactions, humans will feel the effects too.

Misinformation is no way to introduce a topic as serious as acidification. We need to foster broader public understanding if we hope to change policy and human behavior in order to mitigate the threat. While I would be pleased to see acidification making news, I fear hyberbole and misleading statements are counterproductive. The Guardian can do better.

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