Year 4, Month 8, Day 31: Merde Alors!

Time Magazine’s Bryan Walsh notes that the IPCC Report discusses oceanic acidification, saying of climatologists:

But here’s one thing they do know: oceans are absorbing a large portion of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere—in fact, oceans are the largest single carbon sink in the world, dwarfing the absorbing abilities of the Amazon rainforest. But the more CO2 the oceans absorb, the more acidic they become on a relative scale, because some of the carbon reacts within the water to form carbonic acid. This is a slow-moving process—it’s not as if the oceans are suddenly going to become made of hydrochloric acid. But as two new studies published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change shows, acidification will make the oceans much less hospitable to many forms of marine life—and acidification may actually to serve to amplify overall warming.

The first study, by the German researchers Astrid Wittmann and Hans-O. Portner, is a meta-analysis looking at the specific effects rising acid levels are likely to have on specific categories of ocean life: corals, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans and fishes. Every category is projected to respond poorly to acidification, which isn’t that surprising—pH, which describes the relative acidity of a material, is about as basic a function of the underlying chemistry of life as you can get. (Lower pH indicates more acidity.) Rapid changes—and the ocean is acidifying rapidly, at least on a geological time scale—will be difficult for many species to adapt to.

I revised a letter I sent to Time on the same subject about 2 years ago. Took me about 10 minutes. Better luck this time, non?

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s will remember that Walter Cronkite wasn’t the only man on television who was universally loved and trusted. The late Jacques Cousteau introduced millions of young people to the notion that our planet’s oceans were places of strange and profound beauty, well-worth the effort to preserve and protect. The IPCC Report’s distressing news about accelerating oceanic acidification makes me wonder that that tough old Frenchman would say — and do — about it. It’s easy enough to imagine: after a few unprintable Gallic expletives, he’d start speaking truth to the world’s industrialized nations — telling them to show genuine leadership on climate change and carbon emissions. This passionate and eloquent explorer noted years ago, that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Our captains of industry and the leaders of our civilization need to heed those words before it’s too late.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 2: Release The Kraken!

USA Today notes a report from NOAA on the transformations currently under way in the Pacific:

Sharks, blue whales and loggerhead turtles look like losers due to climate change coming to the Pacific Ocean in this century, scientists report.

Sea birds, tuna and leatherback turtles, on the other hand, look more likely to prosper as global warming shifts sea temperatures and habitats, finds the report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“There will be winners and losers,” says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries scientist Elliott Hazen, who led the study.The report looked at changing temperatures and habitat areas in the Pacific by 2100, under a “business as usual” scenario of increasing greenhouse gas emissions tied to fossil fuel use continuing to heat the atmosphere.

Seabirds, such as the sooty shearwater, which would see their habitat expand more than 20%, appear likely to increase in numbers, suggests the analysis. Blue whales and mako sharks see their habitat decrease due to warming ocean water and less prey, raising issues for these threatened species, Hazen says. The study suggests effects would be noticeable by 2040.

Hope our kids like eating jellyfish. Sent September 25:

When it comes to climate change and its effects on our oceans, the long lag between stimulus and response makes meaningful action politically problematic. While our lawmakers routinely invoke future generations of Americans, the plain truth is that they’re programmed to think, not in decades or centuries, but in the two-, four-, and six-year spans of electoral politics. Since climatic transformations happen over decades and centuries, it will always be easier for our politicians to ignore the crisis.

Our oceans are now showing the effect of the past century’s fossil-fuel consumption, and the picture is profoundly disturbing, with the potential for mass extinctions up and down the food chain, from oxygen-supplying plankton to blue whales. With billions around the planet who depend on the seas for their sustenance, NOAA’s forecast of increasing oceanic acidification and ecosystem disruption isn’t just about whales and turtles, but a wake-up call for our species.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 1: Driver, How Can I Get Scrod In This Town?

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports on the parlous condition of the ocean:

SANTA CRUZ – A new study shows that increasingly acidic seawater threatens the food supply in developing countries, particularly island nations dependent on fish for protein.

Released today, the report is the first to rank the threat to countries from the phenomenon, which researchers say is related to climate change. Researchers factored in nations’ exposure to acidification, their dependency on seafood as a food source and their ability to adapt.

“You’re potentially going to have a lot of people that will lose a significant source of protein, something that they sustainably harvested for thousands of years,” said report author Matthew Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist with the conservation group Oceana. “Their way of life is threatened.”

Seafood is an important source of protein, particularly in the developing world, where it supplies 15 percent of the protein for 3 billion people. But oceans are also a key absorbent of carbon dioxide, taking in 300 tons per second – about a quarter of all carbon dioxide produced worldwide.

That has taken a toll, with ocean acidity up 30 percent since the mid-18th century. The change recently has led fish populations to seek out cooler, less acidic waters, and the resulting carbonic acid threatens coral reefs and shellfish.

But I don’t eat fish, so I’m okay, right? Ha ha ha ha ha…

Sent September 24:

While climate change has been largely ignored by politicians and media alike — or else subjected to ludicrous false-equivalency reportage — the lack of attention given to ocean acidification is incomprehensible. As the seas absorb CO2, their pH levels change, disrupting the ecological balance upon which much of the planetary food chain rests.

Less than a decade ago, the Bush administration raised the possibility that terrorists would contaminate our food supply — perhaps poisoning hundreds of citizens. That’s a scary thought — but as fodder for nightmares, it’s dwarfed by the fact that since literally billions of people rely either directly or indirectly on the sea for their food, collapsing oceanic ecosystems could trigger starvation on a level almost impossible to imagine.

In their inability to address the consequences of the burgeoning greenhouse effect, our political and media establishments demonstrate a tragic, and inexcusable, indifference to America’s future.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 15: …But The Words Aren’t Clear….

Bud Ris, the CEO of the New England Aquarium, has a perspective on the oceans’ message to us that’s definitely worth a read:

As we celebrate World Oceans Day on Friday, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the current state of our oceans and the biggest challenge they face: climate change. This is no longer a problem for the future; climate change is already underway.

We now know, for example, that the heat content of the upper layer of the oceans is on the rise. Just a degree or two of change can make a big difference.

As oceans warm, the water actually expands and takes up more space. This is a basic physics phenomenon called thermal expansion. This means that as water temperatures rise, sea level will rise as well, as it has in Boston by about 11 inches over the last 100 years. (Land subsidence is also a factor)

More from The Podium

The data now show that the pace of sea level rise is clearly accelerating, meaning that one to two feet of additional sea level rise by the end of the century is now likely. Much more is possible if ice atop the land masses in Greenland and Antarctica also melts. This has major implications for buildings and public infrastructure along Boston’s waterfront and other major cities. The risks of flooding during storm surges will increase.

Ocean warming won’t just affect humans. The geographic distribution, feeding patterns, and reproductive cycles of many marine animals are sensitive to temperature changes of just a few degrees and to changes in salinity and pH, caused by more freshwater runoff and increased carbon absorption. That may explain why most of the North Atlantic right whales that migrate annually up and down the East Coast didn’t show up in the Bay of Fundy in 2010 for the first time in 30 years — and why now — two years later — we are seeing the result in emaciated mothers and calves and a precariously low birth rate. It might also help explain why lobsters are molting weeks earlier in Maine, and why lobster populations south of Cape Cod are in decline.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Sent June 5:

It’s increasingly apparent that all our planet’s ecosystems are trying to tell us something. Whether it’s bushes transforming into trees in a warming tundra, forests decimated by invasive insects, or acidifying oceans endangering multiple species of marine life, there’s no doubt that the web of life on Earth is under siege.

Why, then, are we seemingly unable to hear the distress calls of the oceans, the forests, or the tundra? Why do so many deny the rapidly accumulating evidence that climate change is an ongoing catastrophe of epic proportions?

While a selfish resistance to inconvenient truths is certainly part of the answer, it’s also true that industrialized humans have separated themselves from the natural world so completely that its messages might as well be in Etruscan. If we are to survive the climate crisis, we must relearn the languages of ecological interdependence along with the hard facts of sustainability.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 25: Nothin’s Gonna Bother Me Atoll…

The Wyndham Weekly (Austrialia) writes about a newly released study that suggests coral may have a hope in hell after all:

Rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change are unlikely to mean the end of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef, according to a new scientific study.

The Cell Press journal Current Biology this morning published what it says is the first large-scale investigation of climate effects on corals and found while some corals were dying, others were flourishing and adapting to the change in water temperatures.

For the study researchers identified and measured more than 35,000 coral colonies on 33 reefs across the length of the Great Barrier Reef to see how they were responding to warming ocean waters.

In results they have described as ‘‘surprising’’ the study found while one species declined in abundance, other species could rise in number.

One of the researchers, Professor Terry Hughes from James Cook University, said while critical issues remained he now believed rising temperatures were unlikely to mean the end of the coral reef.

‘‘The good news is that, rather than experiencing wholesale destruction, many coral reefs will survive climate change by changing the mix of coral species as the ocean warms and becomes more acidic,’’ he said.

‘‘That’s important for people who rely on the rich and beautiful coral reefs of today for food, tourism, and other livelihoods.’’

He said earlier studies of climate change and corals had been done on a much smaller geographical scale, with a primary focus on total coral cover or counts of species as rather crude indicators of reef health.

The problem with good news… Sent April 15:

While a recently released study on coral reefs’ potential for survival in a climate-transformed world reassuringly suggests that oceanic acidification and global warming may not mean extinction, it should prompt us all to work harder on controlling and reducing the planetary greenhouse effect. Gigantic coral colonies like the Great Barrier Reef may well continue living even as their ability to form structures is compromised by higher pH seawater — but this good news cannot be our civilization’s newest excuse for inaction.

Just as the long-term health and prosperity of coral reefs is compromised by climate change, humanity will find its long-term health and prosperity to be surprisingly vulnerable. While we clever apes will surely figure out ways to go on living, our species faces significant dangers from the rapidly emerging effects of the past century’s worth of atmospherized carbon. In the long run, perhaps we are all coral.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 21: Shed A Bitter Tear

The Bend Bulleting (Central OR) runs a story from the Seattle Times concerning a little problem they’re having with Oysters. Hint: the phrase “dying by the billions” is not one you want to hear, unless it concerns plague bacteria:

Researchers for the first time have found definitive evidence that changing ocean chemistry from increased carbon-dioxide emissions are at least partially responsible for massive oyster die-offs in the Pacific Northwest.

The research published Wednesday by scientists from Seattle and Oregon State University is the first anywhere to show that increasingly corrosive seas already are killing marine organisms in North America.

“This is the smoking gun for oyster larvae,” said Richard Feely, an oceanographer and leading marine-chemistry researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle and one of the paper’s authors. “This is the clearest experimental evidence yet that lower pH is making oysters die.”

Said Alan Barton, another of the paper’s authors, “It’s now an incontrovertible fact that ocean chemistry is affecting our larvae.”

Since 2005, wild oysters along the Washington coast and oysters at a commercial shellfish hatchery in Oregon have been dying by the billions. Leading scientists long have suspected that one of the causes is the increasing corrosiveness of ocean waters that frequently rise up from the deep during high winds to lap against the shore.

How much more will it take? Sent April 12:

Sigh. Let’s put the news about oyster colony die-offs and ocean acidification on the pile, shall we? On the pile with fruit farmers in New England worrying about crop losses in the aftermath of a winter that wasn’t. On the pile with the projections of shrinking acreage available for chocolate cultivation in Africa. Put it on the pile with drastically reduced coffee yields, grain crops impacted by increasingly severe and unpredictable weather, trees infested by pine-borer beetles, and all the other ways in which climate change is affecting humanity’s prospects for the future.

And perhaps when the pile is big enough, our politicians will finally offer meaningful policy instead of empty theatrics. Perhaps the professional denialists in the media will stop trying to hinder America’s ability to respond to a clear and present danger. How much more evidence do they need?

Oysters, grain, fruit, coffee, and chocolate are local manifestations of a planetary emergency. Failure to recognize it as such is an error with grave implications — not just for our descendants, but for all life on Earth.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 9: Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Our Lives

Oceanic acidification is the great unrecognized disaster awaiting us. The Albany Times-Union:

ALBANY — Greenhouse gases that drive man-made climate change are also dangerously changing ocean chemistry, likely faster than at any other time in the past 300 million years, according to research coordinated between New York state and the United Kingdom.

The change — known as ocean acidification — is associated with several massive extinctions of marine life in that period of Earth’s history, and now presents a growing threat, said study lead author Barbel Honisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Located in Rockland County on the Hudson River, where the ocean tides stretch upriver to Troy, the observatory was joined by the University of Bristol in southern England in the report, which examined several hundred independent studies from around the world done over the last two decades.

I just felt in the mood for some mockery. Sent March 3:

Red alert! The global scientific conspiracy is not satisfied with contaminating the minds of our nation’s citizens with actual, you know, science-y stuff about the accelerating concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These nefarious empiricists have now infiltrated oceanography!

As part of their plan to bring about a New World Order, rogue researchers are now presenting genuine facts about the terrifying likelihood of catastrophic acidification in the world’s oceans. Have they no shame? Because of this unprecedented power play on the part of the corrupt scientific cabal, climate-change denialists will need to work even harder to keep their minds unsullied by any contact with actual evidence. Note: if you don’t see the sarcasm in these paragraphs, you’re probably part of the problem.

What will the doubters do when the evidence is finally too much to refute? How much more will it take for them to change their minds?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 8: Here’s Hoping My Kid Likes To Eat Jellyfish

The Boston Globe has a good editorial on a terrifying subject. The threatened oceans:

THE WORLD’S oceans provide a crucial environmental safety valve: The blue territory that covers 70 percent of the globe absorbs 80 percent of the heat we are adding to our climate, and about a third of carbon dioxide we are emitting into the atmosphere. A recent report by the International Program on the State of the Ocean, however, has found that the oceans may not be able to sustain these burdens much longer.

The report highlights a combination of factors that put us at high risk for, as the report puts it, “entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.’’ The combined effects of overfishing, marine pollution, and carbon emissions are responsible for this basic fact: Our oceans are degenerating far more quickly than previously predicted. This has consequences not just for marine ecosystems and species, but also for humans.

Sent July 22, gloomily:

Considering that we lived in close interaction with the natural world for countless thousands of years, modern homo sapiens shows a disturbing level of ignorance of the environmental systems of which it is a part. The possibility that the planet’s oceans are entering a death spiral barely seems to be registering on most people’s radar; instead, we are preoccupied with gossip, trivialities, and short-term threats to our comfort. Attention, everyone! A collapse of oceanic ecosystems would not just be a temporary inconvenience, but a world-changing event of a magnitude far beyond our ken! Between oceanic acidification, overfishing, and pollution, we humans have inflicted enormous damage on the seas; if we don’t change our ways voluntarily, we will be forced to change them whether we like it or not. With a civilization struggling in the aftermath of catastrophic ecological implosions, we will have no alternative but to adapt or die.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 13: May You Live In Interesting Times…

More on that wandering whale and the temporally anomalous plankton, this time from the Detroit Free Press:

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — When a 43-foot gray whale was spotted off the Israeli town of Herzliya last year, scientists came to a startling conclusion: It must have wandered across the normally icebound route above Canada, where warm weather briefly opened a clear channel three years earlier.

On a microscopic level, scientists also have found plankton in the North Atlantic where it had not existed for at least 800,000 years.

This will not end well.

Sent June 27:

As strategic thinkers confront the looming reality of global climate change, they are sounding a warning call to all of us: the planet’s atmosphere is warming, and we’re going to face a growing tide of people whose homes and countries have been rendered unlivable. In the aftermath of the torrential rains, parching droughts, catastrophic wildfires, devastating floods and other extreme weather events long predicted by climatologists as consequences of the greenhouse effect, the world’s poor and unlucky will be uprooted, left with little hope and fewer resources. It seems that among those climate refugees are some of Earth’s largest and smallest creatures — like the gray whale spotted off the coast of Israel, and the unexpected plankton discovered by scientists in the Atlantic. Individually, these reports are just mildly interesting anomalies; seen as part of a larger pattern, they indicate that our strategists have grossly underestimated the dangers we’re facing.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 12: Where Is The Sub-Mariner When You Really Need Him?

The ocean is changing, much faster than anyone expected. The SkyValley Chronicle (WA) brings the news:

(NATIONAL) — What does a large gray whale found in the water off an the Israeli town last year have to do with microscopic plankton found recently in the North Atlantic where it had not existed for at least 800,000 years?

Everything, say scientists who now think the whale and the plankton are linked harbingers of a massive migration of species through the Northwest Passage, and a clear and troubling signal of how global warming is affecting animals and plants in the oceans as well as on land.

A new report in MSNBC quotes a scientist in Great Britain as saying the implications of this migration are “enormous,” because a threshold has been crossed — and that alone is an indication of the speed of change that is taking place across the planet because of climate change.

I had no idea it was going to happen this fast.

Sent June 26:

Seen in isolation, each one of these reports seems almost inconsequential. One whale more or less; a few billion plankton where they have no business being — it’s hardly enough to attract our attention, distracted as we are by the latest celebrities du jour. Perhaps that’s a good thing for our short-term mental health; watching the catastrophic breakdown of planetary ecosystems is going to be very stressful. And the most important thing our media can do is to keep us free from any but the most transitory stresses, right?

Ecologies hundreds of thousands of years old are destroyed in a geological eye-blink by the encroachments of our civilization and its waste. Those anomalous whales and plankton are climate refugees, desperately seeking survival in an ocean whose condition is daily more parlous. And they are harbingers of humanity’s future, unless we find the will and the wit to change our ways.

Warren Senders