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Imagine A World Without Fish
Joe Romm, 4 Sep 09

Deadly Ocean Acidification -- Hard To Deny, Harder To Geo-Engineer, But Not Hard To Stop -- Is Subject Of Documentary

Global warming is “capable of wrecking the marine ecosystem and depriving future generations of the harvest of the seas” (see Ocean dead zones to expand, “remain for thousands of years”).

A post on ocean acidification from the new Conservation Law Foundation blog has brought to my attention that the first documentary on the subject, A Sea Change: Imagine a World without Fish, is coming out.

Ocean acidification must be a core climate message, since it is hard to deny and impervious to the delusion that geoengineering is the silver bullet. Indeed, a major 2009 study GRL study, “Sensitivity of ocean acidification to geoengineered climate stabilization” (subs. req’d), concluded:

The results of this paper support the view that climate engineering will not resolve the problem of ocean acidification, and that therefore deep and rapid cuts in CO2 emissions are likely to be the most effective strategy to avoid environmental damage from future ocean acidification.

If you want to understand ocean acidification better, see this BBC story, which explains:

Man-made pollution is raising ocean acidity at least 10 times faster than previously thought, a study says.

Or see this Science magazine study, “Evidence for Upwelling of Corrosive “Acidified” Water onto the Continental Shelf” (subs. req’), which found

Our results show for the first time that a large section of the North American continental shelf is impacted by ocean acidification. Other continental shelf regions may also be impacted where anthropogenic CO2-enriched water is being upwelled onto the shelf.

Or listen to the Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, which warns:

The world’s oceans are becoming more acid, with potentially devastating consequences for corals and the marine organisms that build reefs and provide much of the Earth’s breathable oxygen.
The acidity is caused by the gradual buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, dissolving into the oceans. Scientists fear it could be lethal for animals with chalky skeletons which make up more than a third of the planet’s marine life….

Corals and plankton with chalky skeletons are at the base of the marine food web. They rely on sea water saturated with calcium carbonate to form their skeletons. However, as acidity intensifies, the saturation declines, making it harder for the animals to form their skeletal structures (calcify).

Analysis of coral cores shows a steady drop in calcification over the last 20 years,” says Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of CoECRS and the University of Queensland. “There’s not much debate about how it happens: put more CO2 into the air above and it dissolves into the oceans.

When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans.” (Atmospheric CO2 levels are presently 385 ppm, up from 305 in 1960.)

I’d like to see an analysis of what happens when you get to 850 to 1000+ ppm because that is where we’re headed (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” — 1000 ppm).

The CLF post notes:

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that an acidic ocean is the “equally evil twin” of climate change. Scott Doney, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution noted in a public presentation that “New England is the most vulnerable region in the country to ocean acidification.”

In June, dozens of Academies of Science, including ours and China’s, issued a joint statement on ocean acidification, warned “Marine food supplies are likely to be reduced with significant implications for food production and security in regions dependent on fish protein, and human health and wellbeing” and “Ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years.” They conclude:

Ocean acidification is a direct consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. To avoid substantial damage to ocean ecosystems, deep and rapid reductions of global CO2 emissions by at least 50% by 2050, and much more thereafter are needed.

We, the academies of science working through the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP), call on world leaders to:

• Acknowledge that ocean acidification is a direct and real consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, is already having an effect at current concentrations, and is likely to cause grave harm to important marine ecosystems as CO2 concentrations reach 450 ppm and above;

• Recognise that reducing the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere is the only practicable solution to mitigating ocean acidification;

• Within the context of the UNFCCC negotiations in the run up to Copenhagen 2009, recognise the direct threats posed by increasing atmospheric CO2 emissions to the oceans and therefore society, and take action to mitigate this threat;

• Implement action to reduce global CO2 emissions by at least 50% of 1990 levels by 2050 and continue to reduce them thereafter.

If we want to save life in the oceans — and save ourselves, since we depend on that life — the time to start slashing carbon dioxide emissions is now.


Read how oceans are the new atmosphere in the Worldchanging archives.

This piece originally appeared in Climate Progress.

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