Year 4, Month 11, Day 27: Dove Beneath My Floating Home

The San Francisco Chronicle offers a grim prognosis on the planet’s oceans:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Greenhouse gases are making the world’s oceans hot, sour and breathless, and the way those changes work together is creating a grimmer outlook for global waters, according to a new report Wednesday from 540 international scientists.

The world’s oceans are getting more acidic at an unprecedented rate, faster than at any time in the past 300 million years, the report said. But it’s how this interacts with other global warming impacts to waters that scientists say is getting them even more worried.

Scientists already had calculated how the oceans had become 26 percent more acidic since the 1880s because of the increased carbon in the water. They also previously had measured how the world’s oceans had warmed because of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas. And they’ve observed that at different depths the oceans were moving less oxygen around because of the increased heat.

But together “they actually amplify each other,” said report co-author Ulf Riebesell, a biochemist at the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Germany. He said scientists are increasingly referring to the ocean’s future prospects as “hot, sour and breathless.”

But hey, Al Gore is fat. And Miley Cyrus! November 16:

Industrial civilization’s CO2 emissions are making the oceans which gave us life into deserts. Surely this is more important than the latest scandal du jour? If oceanic acidification was a nubile starlet shaking her fanny on national television, we’d be discussing it full-time, mulling over the implications for our culture, our values, and our civilization. If the accelerating greenhouse effect was a royal baby, we’d be reading about it in every checkout line in the nation. Our celebrity-obsessed mass media has helped us become an ADD nation, distracted from genuine challenges by faux news, factoids, and infotainment.

If humanity is to survive the consequences of our profligacy and wastefulness, we must start by acknowledging the threat’s reality, and the fact that meaningful action on the climate crisis involves us all. And our media must fulfill their responsibilities: to the once-revered ideals of journalism, and to our species’ survival.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 25: Unraveling

The Vancouver Sun notes that there’s trouble in the waters:

A $32-million commercial fishery has inexplicably and completely collapsed this year on the B.C. coast.

The sardine seine fleet has gone home after failing to catch a single fish. And the commercial disappearance of the small schooling fish is having repercussions all the way up the food chain to threatened humpback whales.

Jim Darling, a Tofino-based whale biologist with the Pacific Wildlife Foundation, said in an interview Monday that humpbacks typically number in the hundreds near the west coast of Vancouver Island in summer. They were observed only sporadically this year, including by the commercial whale-watching industry.

“Humpbacks are telling us that something has changed,” he said. “Ocean systems are so complex, it’s really hard to know what it means. For one year, I don’t think there’s any reason to be alarmed, but there is certainly reason to be curious.”

Not a single fucking fish. Not one. What would they do if they only caught one, I wonder? Would it get interviewed on “Oprah”? October 15:

While there can be no doubt that economically-driven overfishing has been a huge factor in the extraordinary collapse of many fish populations, the evidence is now overwhelming that another ingredient in this toxic mix is the impact of climate change. As Earth’s oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they are becoming ever more acidic, which has devastating consequences for many forms of sea life. Furthermore, this change in the water’s chemical makeup is exacerbated by a global increase in temperature — a double-whammy which is forcing many species out of ecological niches they have occupied for centuries or millennia and into a stressful and failure-prone struggle for survival.

The interdependence of oceanic ecosystems is still poorly understood, but the empty fishing nets of the sardine industry provide tangible testimony to the unraveling fabric of aquatic life. By muddling the public discussion of this crucial issue, climate-change deniers in industry, politics, and the media are contributing to an ongoing environmental and humanitarian disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 22: That Voodoo That You Do So Well

Derrick Jackson, in the Boston Globe, asks:

Are lobsters the new symbol of climate change?

The answer, increasingly, is yes. Lobster populations are exploding in the Gulf of Maine, but are plummeting in the waters of southern New England. In 2012, the Gulf of Maine set a record catch of 126 million pounds, double the average of a decade before and six times the average of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, annual lobster landings in Buzzards Bay were just 72,000 pounds last year, down from 400,000 pounds in the late 1990s and from just under a million pounds in the 1980s, according to Massachusetts state lobster biologist Bob Glenn.

The population loss is likely due to warmer waters and disease that may be associated with such water. “We just watched a geological event occur in about a decade,” Glenn said. Scientists speculate that the population boom in Maine is also due to record warm waters, which fueled massive early productions, as well as the overfishing of ground fish that eat lobsters.

The lobster catch in Maine had a record value of $340 million. But the bounty backfired for many individual lobstermen, who were stuck with the lowest per-pound prices in nearly 20 years.

I never liked lobsters, so climate change doesn’t concern me. October 12:

Massive shifts in lobster population off New England’s coastlines may temporarily favor Maine, but in the long run, climate change is going to bring everybody a bumper catch of pain. Fishermen everywhere are encountering catastrophic declines; there may be brief interludes of plenitude, but overall, it’s indisputable that we’ve reached Peak Fish. The two most immediate oceanic impacts of climate change are heating and acidification, which will bring increasingly catastrophic disruptions in the coming decades.

Given that several billion people directly or indirectly get their sustenance from the seas, this is a genuine humanitarian emergency. Factor in the greenhouse effect’s impact on agriculture, and it’s a grim harbinger of future sorrows.

The fossil-fuel industry’s support for climate-change denial in politics and the media is a grave error. With billions of lives at stake, these corporations have elevated the easy lure of quarterly profits over our species’ long-term happiness and prosperity.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 10, Day 10: Shadow-Boxing In The Dark

The Grand Falls/Windsor Falls Advertiser (Newfoundland) discusses fisheries specialist George Rose’s recent presentation:

Rose told the approximately 250 conference delegates the collapse of cod stocks, and the moratorium, was mainly due to overfishing.

However, looking ahead — whether the subject is cod, caplin, lobster, crab, shrimp or any other species — determining what amounts to a sustainable fishery is about gathering the information that will provide the best, most detailed understanding of the ever-changing situation within offshore ecosystems.

Temperatures, acidity levels, and even the amount of plastic floating in our waters all need to be considered, he said.

On climate change, “I’ve read recent reports from as diverse places as Norway, the Northeastern United States and China … all basically reporting similar phenomenon: massive changes in production of their local waters,” he said.

Rose said climate has long been recognized as “a major, major — probably the most important influence” on fisheries.

Revised an earlier letter and sent it off. October 2:

Even if we ignore the looming threat of climate change, Newfoundland’s fisheries are already feeling the devastating impact of overfishing, where the abundant catches of decades past are no longer attainable even with the most advanced technologies. Once we include heating and acidification (the two most significant oceanic impacts of the rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect) in our assessments, there’s no getting around the inevitability of catastrophic declines. There’ll be fewer fish in the coming decades, and they’ll be increasingly difficult (and expensive) to catch. You’ve heard of Peak Oil? We’ve already reached Peak Fish.

With as much as a third of Earth’s population directly or indirectly relying on the ocean for food, this constitutes a humanitarian emergency. Add climate change’s likely impacts on agriculture, and it’s a grim warning to humanity: storm clouds are gathering, and we’re in for a hell of a ride.

The fossil-fuel industry’s myopic readiness to subsidize climate-change denial in politics and the media is a grave mistake. With billions of lives hanging in the balance, these corporations are elevating the easy lure of quarterly profits over the long-term happiness and prosperity of our species.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 30: Break Your Heart and Leave You To Sing

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on an ichthyologist who’s noticing stuff:

On a dark night in the middle of a wide marsh near Tuckerton, N.J., a team of Rutgers University researchers lowered a net over the railing of an old wooden bridge. Then they turned off their flashlights and waited.

Below, in Little Sheepshead Creek, the incoming tide was washing hundreds of tiny fish larvae into the net.

By now – 24 years after these weekly surveys began – Rutgers ichthyologist Ken Able is seeing the unmistakable effects of warming oceans and climate change. Especially in the last decade, the researchers have been seeing more southern species, including the larvae of grouper, a fish common in Florida. At the same time, they’ve been capturing fewer northern species, such as winter flounder.

The changes Able is recording at Little Sheepshead Creek, near Great Bay, are reflected along the East Coast and worldwide. They have the potential not only to alter ecosystems, but also to change the seafood on our dinner plates. Out on Jersey’s beaches, where Atlantic croaker catches used to be a rarity – this was considered the northern end of the fish’s range – anglers now commonly reel them in.

Have a beer. September 22:

The dramatic relocation of fishes to more hospitable locales isn’t the only example of climate change’s effects on the interdependent systems of Earthly life. As the greenhouse effect intensifies, more and more plants and animals will be forced from endangered regional ecosystems into new territories, with unpredictable consequences not just for our meals, but for the other species they encounter. When human beings are forced from their homes by drought, extreme storms, or rising sea levels, we call them “climate refugees,” and the term is as accurate for Atlantic Croakers and other displaced fish as it is for members of our own species.

For fish to relocate to cooler water doesn’t sound like such a big deal — but it could easily be catastrophic for many other species struggling for survival in a complex, symbiotic oceanic environment. An unraveling web of life ultimately leaves us all uprooted and unsupported.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 24: Carry That Weight A Long Time

More on the acidifying oceans, this time from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The problem: When carbon dioxide mixes with water, it takes on a corrosive power that erodes some animals’ shells or skeletons. It also robs the water of ingredients animals use to grow shells in the first place.

New science shows ocean acidification also can bedevil fish and the animals that eat them, from sharks to whales and seabirds. Shifting sea chemistry can cripple the reefs where fish live, rewire fish brains and attack what fish eat.

Those changes pose risks for food supplies, from the fillets used in McDonald’s fish sandwiches to the crab legs sold at seafood markets. Both are brought to the world by a Northwest fishing industry that nets half the nation’s catch.

Sea-chemistry changes are coming as the oceans also warm, and that’s expected to frequently amplify the impacts.

This transformation — once not expected until the end of the century — will be well under way, particularly along the West Coast, before today’s preschoolers reach middle age.

“I used to think it was kind of hard to make things in the ocean go extinct,” said James Barry, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. “But this change we’re seeing is happening so fast it’s almost instantaneous. I think it might be so important that we see large levels, high rates of extinction.”

Still hammering away on Jacques Cousteau. One day, one day…September 16:

The crisis of oceanic acidification recalls memories of the late Jacques Cousteau, who introduced countless Americans to the extraordinary beauty and mindboggling complexity of the world’s oceans — and taught us, as well, that caring for them must be one of our generation’s responsibilities to posterity.

Katharina Fabricius’s report has me imagining that tough old Frenchman’s response to such an emergency. After a volley of unprintable Gallicisms, he’d tell the world’s industrialized nations — leaders and ordinary citizens alike — that the time is long past for us to shed our apathy and show genuine leadership on climate change and carbon emissions. He would once again remind us that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one” — a fact that’s easy to forget when we are distracted by petty politics and the scandals du jour of an industrialized civilization disconnected from the core truths of the natural world.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 22: Why People Tear The Seam Of Anyone’s Dream Is Over My Head

Oceanic ecosystems are coming undone, notes the LA Times:

As climate change heats our oceans, you’d expect temperature-sensitive marine species to flee poleward to cooler waters. So why have some headed to warmer regions toward the equator?

Scientists have solved the puzzle. For the most part, these animals are relocating to cooler waters. But since the effects of climate change can vary widely across regions, sometimes those cooler regions are closer to the poles and sometimes they’re closer to the equator.

In other words, marine animals are still reacting to climate change, but at a local scale. And they’re doing it so reliably that you can actually measure the speed and direction of those changes by watching where animals go, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

Just another day in the Solar System. September 14:

As climate change’s effects grow more intense, we’ll see more plant and animal species on the move; the transformation of the world’s ocean populations is just one example of something that’s happening everywhere we look. But the heart of the story isn’t that creatures are traveling to more salubrious locales. The intricacy and variety of Earthly life is created by the interactions between life-forms; local and regional habitats have evolved over thousands of years to support symbiotic relationships in a richly interwoven tapestry.

A particular type of fish moving where the water is cooler doesn’t sound like that big a deal — but it could easily spell disaster for other species in an interdependent oceanic environment. When the web of life unravels in one location, it will have impacts everywhere. With billions depending on the seas for their sustenance, the news of ecosystem disruption is bad news for everyone.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 21: I Always Recycle

The Seattle Times on oceanic acidification:

NORMANBY ISLAND, Papua New Guinea — Katharina Fabricius plunged from a dive boat into the Pacific Ocean of tomorrow.

She kicked through blue water until she spotted a ceramic tile attached to the bottom of a reef.

A year earlier, the Australian ecologist had placed this small square near a fissure in the sea floor where gas bubbles up from the earth. She hoped the next generation of baby corals would settle on it and take root.

Fabricius yanked a knife from her ankle holster, unscrewed the plate and pulled it close. Even underwater the problem was clear. Tiles from healthy reefs nearby were covered with budding coral colonies in starbursts of red, yellow, pink and blue. This plate was coated with a filthy film of algae and fringed with hairy sprigs of seaweed.

Instead of a brilliant new coral reef, what sprouted here resembled a slimy lake bottom.

Isolating the cause was easy. Only one thing separated this spot from the lush tropical reefs a few hundred yards away.

Carbon dioxide.

One of these days somebody’s going to publish one of my Jacques Cousteau letters. September 13:

Remembering my childhood in the turbulent 60s, I can single out two faces on television who were universally regarded as truth-tellers and moral authorities. Running a close second to Walter Cronkite was Jacques Cousteau, who introduced millions of people to the profound and protean beauty of the world’s oceans. How would that tough old Frenchman respond to the IPCC’s grim report on the threat of intensifying oceanic acidification?

I’m pretty sure that (after a few volleys of Gallic profanity) he’d get right to work speaking truth to the world’s developed nations, reminding them (as he long ago told us) that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one”, and that the time is long past for the industrialized world to demonstrate genuine civic responsibility in reducing their greenhouse emissions. Acidifying ocean waters could trigger a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe of planetary dimensions; we ignore this phenomenon at our peril.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 7: Thought We Said Goodbye Last Night

More on oceanic acidification, this time from the Sacramento Bee:

Making a living from the ocean is not for the faint of heart. It’s comparable to farming the soil, in that weather, disease and market conditions can make or break your bottom line. Food production, whether farming on land or in water, is dependent upon a number of factors all working in sync to produce a healthy, resilient crop. If just one factor is off, it can ruin your whole harvest.

A recently recognized threat to ocean health has the potential to do more than just inflict a bad year on shellfish producers. Ocean acidification could put us out of business permanently. Caused by activities that generate pollution from factories, cars and power plants, ocean acidification is physically changing the chemistry in the ocean. The ocean is a tremendous sponge for pollution, soaking up about 30 percent of what we put in the atmosphere. As those emissions are absorbed, it makes seawater more acidic with dire consequences to marine life, dissolving the shells of oysters, mussels and clams, and confusing behavior of fish, like salmon.

This is the “we’re all in it together” letter. Sept. 2:

Oceanic heating and acidification (two consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect) make catastrophic declines a certainty for California’s shellfish industry. And it’s not just the West coast of the USA, but everywhere humans make their living from the sea, for the climate crisis knows no national boundaries.

Since billions of people (between a quarter and a third of Earth’s population) depend on the ocean for food, this is a humanitarian emergency. Include the likely effects of climate change on agriculture, and the gathering storm clouds are too big to ignore.

Unless, of course, you’re in a position to do something about it, like the many politicians whose myopic climate-change denialism ensures a failure to act in time to avert disaster. It’s never a good idea to bet on ignorance; when our species’ future is at stake, it’s a catastrophe in the making.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 5: Drown In My Own Tears

The Washington Post addresses the IPCC report on oceanic acidification:

The world’s oceans are turning acidic at what’s likely the fastest pace in 300 million years. Scientists tend to think this is a troubling development. But just how worried should we be, exactly?

It’s a question marine experts have been racing to get a handle on in recent years. Here’s what they do know: As humans keep burning fossil fuels, the oceans are absorbing more and more carbon-dioxide. That staves off (some) global warming, but it also makes the seas more acidic — acidity levels have risen 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

There’s reason for alarm here: Studies have found that acidifying seawater can chew away at coral reefs and kill oysters by making it harder to form protective shells. The process can also interfere with the food supply for key species like Alaska’s salmon.

But it’s not fully clear what this all adds up to. What happens if the oceans keep acidifying and water temperatures keep rising as a result of global warming? Are those stresses going to wipe out coral reefs and fisheries around the globe, costing us trillions (as one paper suggested)? Or is there a chance that some ecosystems might remain surprisingly resilient?

Same message, so they get another version of the Cousteau letter. Aug. 31:

Walter Cronkite may have been the most universally trusted figure on television during the 1960s, but there was another who ran a close second. How many of us were introduced to the profound and protean beauty of the world’s oceans by the late Jacques Cousteau? One wonders that that tough old Frenchman would say and do if he had the opportunity to hear the IPCC’s grim discussion of intensifying oceanic acidification.

My guess: he’d start speaking truth (probably laced with unprintable Gallicisms) to the world’s industrialized nations, telling them in no uncertain terms that the time is long past to demonstrate genuine civic responsibility in dealing with their accelerating carbon emissions.

This eloquent and dedicated explorer long ago told us that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Our political leaders and those who captain the engines of our economy can no longer afford to ignore these words.

Warren Senders