“We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change;” ocean acidification called “evil twin” of climate change.The Earth’s oceans are becoming more acidic at a faster rate than at any time in the past 300 million years due to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, a new study shows.
The study, published in the journal Science, details the work of 21 scientists from the U.S. and Europe.
“The geological record suggests that the current acidification is potentially unparalleled in at least the last 300 million years of Earth history, and raises the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change,” said co-author Andy Ridgwell of Bristol University.
The Albany Times Union explains:
Ocean acidification works like this: Burning of fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, There, the gas keeps more of the heat from the sun from radiating back into space, a process that an international scientific consensus says is gradually raising the planet’s temperature.
At the same time, about a quarter of the increasing CO2 is being absorbed by the oceans, where it is converted into carbonic acid. This is steadily making the ocean more acidic, which among other things can harm the ability of sea creatures to thrive, or make hard shells or skeletons. Rising acidification can also affect marine organisms by causing slower growth, fewer offspring, muscle wastage and dwarfism.
Some scientists have called this gradual process the “evil twin” of climate change.
The study “raises the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change,” said Andy Ridgwell, a professor of planetary modeling at the University of Bristol who took part in the study.
Agence France-Presse reports on the study:
The acidification may be worse than during four major mass extinctions in history when natural pulses of carbon from asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions caused global temperatures to soar, said the study in the journal Science. […]
They found only one time in history that came close to what scientists are seeing today in terms of ocean life die-off — a mysterious period known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum about 56 million years ago.
Though the reason for the carbon upsurge back then remains a source of debate, scientists believe that the doubling of harmful emissions drove up global temperatures by about six degrees Celsius and caused big losses of ocean life. […]
“We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out — new species evolved to replace those that died off,” said lead author Barbel Honisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
“But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about — coral reefs, oysters, salmon.”
Honish and colleagues said the current rate of ocean acidification is at least 10 times faster than it was 56 million years ago.
Ars Technica adds:
While the authors frequently point out the difficulty in teasing apart the effects of ocean acidification and climate change, they argue that this is really an academic exercise. It’s more useful to consider the witches’ brew with all the ingredients—acidification, temperature change, and changes in dissolved oxygen—since, historically, those have come together. That combination produces unequivocally bad news.
The authors conclude, “[T]he current rate of (mainly fossil fuel) CO2 release stands out as capable of driving a combination and magnitude of ocean geochemical changes potentially unparalleled in at least the last ~300 [million years] of Earth history, raising the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change.”
Posts tagged ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification may be fastest in 300 million years
The world’s oceans are turning acidic even more rapidly than during a monster emission of planet-warming carbon 56 million years ago.
Overfishing, global warming and pollution threaten to transform the ocean—and perhaps life as we know it
This is important.
10 species likely to suffer at the hands of ocean acidification
We all know carbon has contributed to climate change and global warming, but also another underexposed problem: ocean acidification.
Tiny changes in the chemical composition of the ocean can have huge consequences for marine life, especially those who make their homes out of calcium carbonate [poor molluscs and coral] which is less available in acidified waters.
1. Blue sea slug [Glaucus atlanticus] - feeds on the highly venomous Portuguese-man-of-war. Not the best food chain to unbalance…ouch!
2. Pterapods - the basis of the Antarctic food chain. If they start dissolving whales and polar bears have another problem to deal with.
3. Brittle stars - vulnerable to ocean acidification in both adult and larval forms.
4. Squid - acidic water has been found to interfere with squids’ blood making it harder for them to absorb oxygen.
5. Shrimp - represent an important part of food webs and ecological balance in all oceans.
6. Oysters - global populations have apparently suffered a sudden crash.
7. Sea Urchins - often overlooked for “sexier” species, even the ugly urchins have a critical role in maintaining reef ecosystems by eating algae, providing a healthy balanced reef.
8. Abalone - may not last the next 1OO years at the current rate of ocean acidification.
9. Coral - an obvious victim. The knock-on effects of more brittle or lack of coral structures are too vast and too scary to think of.
1O. Clownfish - been found to have a higher instance of deafness and increases in brash behaviour in acidified waters leading to poor defence against its numerous predators.
A few hundred yards from the preceding scene, CO₂ bubbling from seafloor vents acidifies the water to levels that might one day prevail all over the oceans. Dull mats of algae replace the colorful diversity—”fair warning,” says biologist Jason Hall-Spencer.
Read what anthropogenic acidification is doing to our oceans and how, by 2100, this scene could be widespread: The Acid Sea
The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists.
Well, this isn’t shocking to those who have studied and paid attention to the serious issues concerning the oceans.
This is more important than you realize. You can help save our oceans.
Oceanic biodiversity is what breathes life into ecosystems on land, including us.
1/4 of the world’s coral reefs, which are home to 20-30% of the ocean’s species are currently in danger due to pollution. Between 10-15% of all coral reefs are considered to be totally dead and 60-70% are in imminent danger.
Currently, about 30% of all fish species are overfished and 80% of about 200 commercially important fish stocks in the U.S. alone are fully exploited or overfished. If we continue to do what we’re doing now, we can expect the ocean to collapse by 2048.
Phytoplankton, which behave as one of the most fundamental components of the food chain, have declined by 40% since 1950 due to a rise in oceanic temperatures by just 1 degree. The temperature of the ocean is expected to rise by 3 degrees relatively soon.
Ocean acidification, which has been said to be just as if not more threatening than global warming itself, has greatly disrupted the PH balance of the oceans, resulting in an increase of acidity by about 30%.
Please, start caring about our oceans.
A new study concludes that ocean acidification, along with increased ocean temperatures, will likely severely reduce the diversity and resilience of coral reef ecosystems within this century. ›
The research team studied three natural volcanic CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea to better understand how ocean acidification will impact coral reefs ecosystem diversity. The study details the effects of long-term exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide and low pH on Indo-Pacific coral reefs, a condition that is projected to occur by the end of the century as increased man-made CO2 emissions alter the current pH level of seawater, turning the oceans acidic.
“These ‘champagne reefs’ are natural analogs of how coral reefs may look in 100 years if ocean acidification conditions continue to get worse,” said Langdon, UM Rosenstiel School professor and co-principal investigator of the study.
The study shows shifts in the composition of coral species and reductions in biodiversity and recruitment on the reef as pH declined from 8.1 to 7.8. The team also reports that reef development would cease at a pH below 7.7. The IPCC 4th Assessment Report estimates that by the end of the century, ocean pH will decline from the current level of 8.1 to 7.8, due to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
“The seeps are probably the closest we can come to simulating the effect of man-made CO2 emissions on a coral reef,” said Langdon. “They allow us to see the end result of the complex interactions between species under acidic ocean conditions.”The reefs detailed in this study have healthy reefs nearby to supply larvae to replenish the reefs. If pH was low throughout the region — as projected for year 2100 — then there would not be any healthy reefs to reseed damaged ones, according to Langdon.
Acidity levels in the ocean are rising faster than we have seen before; pH levels have increased 30% since the industrial revolution. Scientists warn that some sea creatures such as coral and shellfish might have a difficult time surviving in this environment. Others may adapt, we shall see.
Alright, so, I talk about issues with our oceans a lot because rich oceanic biodiversity is what keeps us alive on land. Unfortunately, since Tumblr’s search feature is terrible, I cannot direct you to many of my past posts on why you need to care about acid deposition and ocean acidification. However, you may read this, this, and this to start.
The oceans are something you need to start caring about. Ocean acidification is showing itself to be as deadly as global warming and we cannot survive on land without diverse marine life.
Emphasis mine because one of the most important statements ever made about climate change; we need healthy oceans to survive.
The findings of a major study on the health of the world’s oceans have been released to coincide with the COP15 climate conference. The report, which was compiled by The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, highlights the direct link between manmade CO2 emissions and the rising acidity levels of the world’s seas.
The study found that around a quarter of all carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities, has been absorbed by the oceans. Without this absorption the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be markedly higher and the effects of global warming more severe. Although this process may have bought some time, the report states, it has not been without a cost: rising levels of marine acidity.
At current rates, the report estimates ocean acidity will increase by 150 percent by 2050, a rate of acidification 100 times greater than anything that has occurred in the last 20 million years. This will leave little chance for adaptation by marine organisms and cause the widespread dying off of the world’s corals. In addition, shelled organisms will not be able to survive the increased acidity, which will likely lead to a wide scale collapse of the marine food chain.
Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention gave this warning: “Ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years, and substantial damage to ocean ecosystems can only be avoided by urgent and rapid reductions in global emissions of CO2.”
The report stresses that the precise effect on marine life cannot be known, but says there is an emerging body of research that suggests the effects will be variable and complex. In particular it is thought that micro organism at the base of the food chain, such as pteropods, coccolithophores, as well as larger calcifying organisms such as mussels, oysters and crabs will be worst affected.
Dr Tomas E.Lovejoy, Biodiversity Chair of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and Environment notes in the preface to the report “This publication on the impacts of ocean acidification on marine biodiversity is very timely and germane, as it confirms again how great the stakes of sustainability are in the climate change negotiations.”
In November Dr Jane Lubchenco, the Obama appointed head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) described ocean acidification as “global warming’s evil twin” and stressed that it was equally as important a problem. Lubchenco was picking up an honorary doctorate from the University of Copenhagen for her work on sustainability when she made her remarks, adding that the aim of COP15 should be “To reduce emissions as much as possible as fast as possible.”
Asked whether the problem was a scientific or a moral one, Lubchenco told The COP15 Post “We owe it to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren to tackle this problem head on and fix it.”
We also owe it to the world and the oceans inhabitants.
Not only do we owe it to the world, we NEED to do it. We cannot have life on land without healthy oceans.
trastorn asked: What do you think are the three most pressing environmental issues and what are some steps that people can take in their daily lives to help?
This is a really good question but it’s quite difficult to narrow our current situation down to just 3 major problems, as environmental sustainability requires a balance of many, many factors. However, I can definitely name 3 of which we can all help to eradicate.
1. Something which may be more of a threat to our Earth than global warming itself is ocean acidification. If we want to fight ocean acidification, it is necessary that we learn more about it first. I’ve discussed this issue quite a bit on my blog, including here (the facts are pretty brutal) and it’s primarily caused by excess amounts of CO2 being pumped into our atmosphere. Acid deposition is a serious problem not only for our oceans but for those of us on land too. The nitric and sulfuric acids that are released into our atmosphere do their fair share of damage by contaminating our precipitation and by forming dry acid particles that settle out of the air. Acid deposition is why buildings, national monuments, statues, etc. are being rapidly worn away, why rain tastes sour, why animal and fish populations are declining faster than we often predict, why tree growth has rapidly declined, etc. This is a really tricky problem to combat because the acid deposition doesn’t necessarily occur where acidic gases are emitted and the politics are nasty, particularly since we know so very little about the problem still. However, there are a number of ways in which you can help:
- Switch your energy provider to non-coal. The main sources of sulfur dioxide (including nitrogen oxides, although to a lesser extent) are coal-burning power plants, large smelters, and industrial boilers. Wind carries these dangerous gases from smokestacks rather large distances. In the atmosphere, sulfur dioxide & nitrogen oxides react with water molecules to create sulfuring acid, nitric acid, and nitrous acid, each of which eventually falls back to Earth.
- Leave coral reefs alone and never, ever, ever touch one. Ocean acidification leads to what has been referred to as the calcification and osteoporosis-like disease of our coral reefs, which significantly weakens them. A large percentage of our reefs are currently in trouble and we need to begin conserving those most and least affected.
- Help marine life fight the rising acidity by improving its health. This means monitoring your seafood intake.
- Stop driving. Make the effort to find and take public transportation, carpool, ride your bike, or even better, walk.
- Click here for 30 more ways to help save our oceans and waterways. Anything you can do to ease the pressure on the oceans will help significantly while geoengineers search for better solutions to this ever growing problem.
2. Mining. There’s a huge difference between the consumption of minerals by highly developed and developing countries. For instance, the United States and Canada, which account for about 5.1% of the world’s population, currently consume about 25% of the world’s metals. Surface mining requires removing vegetation, soil, subsoil, and overlying rock strata. There are actually 2 types of surface mining: open-pit and strip mining. Open-pit mining requires digging massive quarries and strip mining entails digging a trench to extract minerals. The overburden (or the soil and rock overlying a mineral) is then put into a previously dug trench. 60% of the coal obtained in the United States is done do by surface mining. The highest consumer of coal, however, is China. Coal accounts for over 65% of China’s energy needs. The other 40% of coal extracted in the United States is done so by subsurface mining, where minerals are extracted from deep underground. This method disturbs the land less than surface mining but it’s incredibly dangerous and expensive. Coal mining in particular has serious environmental effects, including acid mine drainage, which is pollution caused when sulfuric acid and dangerous dissolved materials such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium, wash from coal and metal mines into nearby streams and waterways.
However, what is probably the most destructive practice done to land is mountaintop removal. In West Virginia alone, between 15-25% of all mountains have been totally leveled. Where exactly do you put the top of a mountain? Well, you usually just throw it somewhere in the valley or in a waterway. Mountaintop removal has grown so rapidly that over 50% of the peaks are predicted to be gone in that area by 2020. This practice has destroyed biodiversity and the erosion involved has lead to massive deforestation, causing many ecosystems to collapse. A major byproduct of mountaintop removal is a liquid waste known as coal slurry, which contains carcinogens, and very toxic heavy metals. Lots of people are getting sick due to these dangerous minerals, including many children. Long-term effects may include liver, kidney, and spleen failure, bone damage, and cancers of the digestive tract. According to a 2003 EPA report:
- More than 7 percent of Appalachian forests have been cut down and more than 1,200 miles of streams across the region have been buried or polluted between 1985 and 2001.
- Over 1000 miles of streams have been permitted to be buried in valley fills. (for scale, this is a greater distance than the length of the entire Ohio River).
- Mountaintop removal mining, if it continues unabated, will cause a projected loss of more than 1.4 million acres by the end of the decade-an area the size of Delaware-with a concomitant severe impact on fish, wildlife, and bird species, not to mention a devastating effect on many neighboring communities.
- 800+ square miles of mountains are estimated to be already destroyed. (this is equal to a one-quarter mile wide swath of destruction from New York to San Francisco - it is also significantly underestimated).
Here’s what you can do to help:
- Find out if you’re connected to mountaintop removal mining.
- The Environmental Protection Agency extended the deadline for citizen comments on two proposals of how coal ash waste, a byproduct of coal-burning, is treated. Write the EPA before Nov. 19 and tell them that coal ash—which contains concentrated levels of mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals—should be treated as a hazardous waste with federal oversight
- Cut down on your energy consumption and upgrade to greener products.
- Support tax-deductible campaigns, projects, and films. (The organizations provided at the link are all great.)
3. The most pervasive and obvious environmental issue is over-consumption. Our Earth is horribly overpopulated and our resources are few. Our Earth currently does not have the resources for each person to live a life similar to ours. In fact, it would take 5 planet Earths to sustain life at our rate of consumption while nearly 1 in 4 people currently lives in extreme poverty. 3.5 billion people, that’s over half of the world’s population, live on less than $2 a day. 81% of the world’s population lives in poor countries, divided into moderately developed and less developed countries. The extremely high rate of consumption by those in highly developed countries has just as significant of an impact on the environment as the rapid growth in population. This increased consumption of nonessential items rapidly depletes resources and degrades the global environment. The economic development of poor countries is more often than not tied to the exploitation of their natural resources, which are frequently exported to highly developed countries. The people of these countries are faced with either exploiting their resources to meet the short-term demands of the growing populations or preserving the resources for future generations. The poor people in these countries find themselves in what seems to be an unwinnable situation: deplete environmental resources in order to survive but then lose the resources, diminish the prospects of economic development, and fall back into poverty.
Those of us who live in highly developed countries are encouraged to consume more in order to promote happiness by the media and advertising industries. Our use of resources is greatly disproportional to the number of consumers. For instance, even though the people in highly developed countries account for under 20% of the world’s population, they use 86% of the world’s aluminum, 76% of timber, 68% of energy produced, eat 61% of the world’s meat, and consume 42% of the world’s freshwater, while generating 75% of the world’s pollution and waste. Just one child born in such countries have a greater impact on the environment and resource depletion than about 20 children born in developing countries. The average ecological footprint of someone living in the United States is 9.6 hectares (23.7 acres) and the footprint of someone living in a developing country such as India or Nigeria is about 1 hectares (2.5 acres).
As more and more people are becoming consumers in developing countries, the human impact on the Earth is getting worse, particularly because many of us don’t quite understand these impacts or those of technological advancements. For instance, motor vehicles are not only liked to global warming from CO2 emissions but also air and water pollution (from exhaust, improperly disposed oil and antifreeze), stratospheric ozone depletion (from the leakage of air conditioner coolants), and solid waste (such as the disposal of cars in landfills). Despite these impacts of cars, there are about 550 million cars in the world and that number is increasing significantly each day. However, the consumption of a particular product or resource may increase, but the environmental impact may be decreased due to technological advancements. Finding a perfect balance is incredibly difficult and will require a great deal of cooperation.
We must approach each of these problems with the concept of environmental sustainability in mind, which National Geographic has popularly defined as “the ability to meet humanity’s current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Environmental sustainability applies to a number of levels, including the individual, communal, regional, national, and global levels and is based upon the following ideas:
- We must consider the effects of our actions on the health and well being of the natural environment, including all living things.
- Earth’s resources are not present in infinite supply. We must live within limits that let renewable resources such as fresh water regenerate for future needs.
- We must understand all of the costs to the environment and to society of products we consume.
- We must each share responsibility for environmental sustainability.
We currently aren’t living at such a level because we’re using nonrenewable resources as if they were unlimited in their supply, we’re not allowing renewable resources to replenish, we’re polluting as if the capacity of Earth to absorb our waste were limitless, and our population is growing despite Earth’s limited means to sustain us.
Our solutions require a universal better understanding of science. Without such knowledge the only possible outcome for us is failure. Furthermore, we must strive for sustainable development, where economic growth meets the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations. We must adopt a lifestyle based around sustainable consumption and embrace voluntary simplicity, where we recognize that our individual happiness and quality of life are not linked to materialism. Personal value and character define us far beyond what we own is capable of. In order to do this, we must embrace formal and informal education so that we can understand the necessity of change. If we are able to understand how the Earth and universe works, we can better appreciate our place within them and bring value to sustainability. We must adjust our worldview such that everything we do is just and provides for an evolved sense of ethics.
This is all possible. We just need to motivate ourselves and develop a determined will to change the world. It may seem daunting, but we certainly won’t be doing it alone.