Archive for the ‘Ocean Acidification’ Category

Nature’s sting: The real cost of damaging Planet Earth

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to care about protecting the Earth’s wildlife.

Just ask a Chinese fruit farmer who now has to pay people to pollinate apple trees because there are no longer enough bees to do the job for free.

And it’s not just the number of bees that is dwindling rapidly – as a direct result of human activity, species are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 times greater than the natural average.

The Earth’s natural environment is also suffering.

In the past few decades alone, 20% of the oceans’ coral reefs have been destroyed, with a further 20% badly degraded or under serious threat of collapse, while tropical forests equivalent in size to the UK are cut down every two years.

These statistics, and the many more just like them, impact on everyone, for the very simple reason that we will all end up footing the bill.

Costing nature

For the first time in history, we can now begin to quantify just how expensive degradation of nature really is.

A recent, two-year study for the United Nations Environment Programme, entitled The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), put the damage done to the natural world by human activity in 2008 at between $2tn (£1.3tn) and $4.5tn.

At the lower estimate, that is roughly equivalent to the entire annual economic output of the UK or Italy.

A second study, for the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), puts the cost considerably higher. Taking what research lead Dr Richard Mattison calls a more “hard-nosed, economic approach”, corporate environmental research group Trucost estimates the figure at $6.6tn, or 11% of global economic output.

This, says Trucost, compares with a $5.4tn fall in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008.

Of course these figures are just estimates – there is no exact science to measuring humans’ impact on the natural world – but they show that the risks to the global economy of large-scale environmental destruction are huge.

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Methane releases in arctic seas could wreak devastation

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Massive releases of methane from arctic seafloors could create oxygen-poor dead zones, acidify the seas and disrupt ecosystems in broad parts of the northern oceans, new preliminary analyses suggest.

Such a cascade of geochemical and ecological ills could result if global warming triggers a widespread release of methane from deep below the Arctic seas, scientists propose in the June 28 Geophysical Research Letters.

Worldwide, particularly in deeply buried permafrost and in high-latitude ocean sediments where pressures are high and temperatures are below freezing, icy deposits called hydrates hold immense amounts of methane (SN: 6/25/05, p. 410). Studies indicate that seafloor sediments beneath the Kara, Barents and East Siberian seas in the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Sea of Okhotsk and the Barents Sea in the North Pacific, have large reservoirs of the planet-warming greenhouse gas, says study coauthor Scott M. Elliott, a marine biogeochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Many oceanographic surveys have already discovered plumes of methane rising from the ocean floor, particularly in the Arctic, Elliott notes. The climate warming expected in coming decades will likely extend even into the deep sea, melting or destabilizing hydrates and releasing their trapped methane, he explains. Some scientists estimate that increased temperatures across some swaths of ocean floor between 300 and 600 meters deep — where methane hydrates are now stable but may not be in the future — could eventually release as much as 16,000 metric tons of methane each year.

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Ocean acidification: Global warming’s evil twin

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

While there’s much focus on the impacts from warming temperatures, there’s another more direct effect from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. More than 30% of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans is dissolved into the oceans, gradually turning ocean water more acidic. Coral reef researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg explains the threat of ocean acidification: “Evidence gathered by scientists around the world over the last few years suggests that ocean acidification could represent an equal – or perhaps even greater threat – to the biology of our planet than global warming”. Thus a new paper Paleo-perspectives on ocean acidification (Pelejero et al 2010) labels ocean acidification the ‘evil twin’ of global warming.

As CO2 dissolves in the oceans, it leads to a drop in pH. This change in seawater chemistry affects marine organisms and ecosystems in several ways, especially organisms like corals and shellfish whose shells or skeletons are made from calcium carbonate. Today, the surface waters of the oceans have already acidified by an average of 0.1 pH units from pre-industrial levels and we’re seeing signs of its impact even in the deep oceans.

The past gives us an insight into future effects of ocean acidification, as we continue to emit more CO2 and acidify the ocean even further. Ice cores give us accurate data on the evolution of CO2 in the atmosphere over the last 800,000 years. These reconstructions, together with data derived from foraminifera, find that the pH of ocean surface water was lower during interglacials (high levels of atmospheric CO2). Seawater pH was also higher during glacial periods  when atmospheric CO2 was low. Correspondingly, foraminifera seem to have grown thicker or thinner shells over glacial–interglacial timescales in time with changing CO2 levels.

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Oceans Turn More Acidic Than Last 800,000 Years

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

– Not my first post on this subject.   See:

– Like many of the pots coming to a slow bubble, this one just keeps slowly heating up while we blithely go on our way.   Imagine how surprised many of us are going to be when one or more of these ‘pots’ boils over.  But, so long as it all keeps happening slowly, most will ignore it all in favor of American Idol or Oprah.

– I was just talking about the possibility of sudden state-changes in one or the other of the world’s natural systems with a friend over the wekend.   We (humanity) have never experienced a major one but the geological records clearly prove that they’ve happened in the past.   And it seems quite likely that if we keep pushing the parameters of the world’s various systems, we’re going to trigger one sooner or later.  Oh, happy day.

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The question is not whether acidification is happening, but how bad it will get

SAN DIEGO—For more than 30 years, scientists have understood the link between rising carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. But it wasn’t until the middle of the last decade that they realized CO2 emissions could alter the chemistry of the world’s oceans to devastating effect.

Now they’re making up for lost time, researchers said this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said his agency is preparing to release its first ocean acidification research plan.

“It’s going to be delivered to headquarters next month,” he said. “Our plan includes coastal observations, technology development, remote sensing using satellites, an observational network with moorings to measure CO2, [and] physiological research on how various organisms respond to changes.”

And the National Academy of Sciences is also expected to weigh in. An NAS committee will release a congressionally mandated study by the end of next month that will address everything from scientific questions about how ocean acidification will affect marine life and ocean-dependent industries to recommendations for a national acidification research program.

Victoria Fabry, a visiting research scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a member of the NAS panel, said researchers can already detect and measure CO2-driven changes in ocean chemistry.

Feely, for example, led a 2007 NOAA expedition that found corrosive waters off North America’s Pacific coast at levels not expected until 2050.


A big picture snapshot

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

– A friend wrote me the other day about CO2 and said that most of the folks who are out there talking about CO2 and its dangers sound a bit like Chicken Little.  He said there must be places out there on the web where one can get a more balanced presentation of the issues.  And asked if I could direct him to such.

– I’m not sure I answered his questions as effectively as I might have.  I could have, for instance, done some research and tried to find web sites for him with more balanced presentations around CO2 and its issues.

– But, instead, I decided to tell him how and why the debate over CO2 has gotten to be so shrill and why many folks these days are sounding like Chicken Little.

– I think the explanation of why things have gotten so shrill is well worth repeating to a wider audience and so I’ve reproduced my friend’s questions and my responses below.

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I know your position on global warming.   Here are my thoughts:   First any thing that would get us untangled from the Middle East and every one else that we buy oil from would be a godsend.   Most people don’t realize that Canada and Mexico are our biggest suppliers.   Being tied to any other country the way we are is a bad thing.   I don’t think the oil/coal industries will are willing to have any change in the status quo until the last ounce of oil and coal is gone.   I think they control, to one extent or another, our government.   I believe that without their influence, we would have made massive changes by now.

Now, I would like to understand more about CO2.  I am not ignorant of the chemistry or of the geological history.   My problems is when I hear the side describing the downsides of CO2 they are so one sided that they sound like Chicken Little.

Even though the CO2 increase has great potential for mass disruption of the world’s ecological balance, there must be a little of this that is being balanced by natural processes.   Perhaps,  just not at a rate that we can accept.   Could you send me some web sites with a little balance?

Dave C.

=== and my response:


You are right.  The oil/gas/coal industries are not going to recognize the global climate change effects their products produce.   If they did, it would cost them personally a pile of money.   And yes, they do have a huge effect on governments all over the world – especially the U.S. government.

Your question about CO2 is an excellent one and I wish I could do a better job of answering it.

When you say that the people describing the coming problems from rising CO2 levels sound like Chicken Little, I have to agree.   But, you need to also reflect on how the situation got to be like that.

First off, think about the fact that scientific discoveries don’t usually come up for public debate.

And consider that science comes up with some wild and almost unbelievable discoveries fairly often.   Take Dark Matter and Dark Energy for two things.   And Quantum Physics and all of its weird ideas like entanglement and action at a distance.   And the fact that really small things like electrons are not really in one place or another but rather exist in a small cloud of probability that hovers near where we think it actually is.  And how about relativity with its ideas that time slows down as your speed get closer and closer to the speed of light?

All that stuff was discovered by science and it beggared the imagination for most of us.  But people (most of them anyway), didn’t stand up and begin to argue passionately against these new findings.

And almost EVERYTHING you and I see around us in the world today is the product of science.   Telephones, electronics, plastics, microwaves, space shuttles, nylon and the list could go on and on for years.  It is hard to find much that we use that isn’t in some way or another the direct product of science and scientific research.   Not many people will stand up and claim that the chemistry that led to developing nylon is wrong.  Or that the laws describing voltage, current and resistance are wrong.

So what’s different about science’s findings about global climate change?

Well, you already said it.   It’s the money.  It’s the vested interests.  It’s what folks will stand to lose if the theories about CO2 and global climate change are true.  And it is big.  If this stuff is true, it means nothing less than that we have to simply reorganized how we do business on this Earth.  Almost everything about how most of us live is going to have to change some if we want to continue to live on this planet without turning it into a hell.

So, that’s a big big change that will result if we listen to what the scientists are saying.  It’s going to cost big oil/gas/coal billions of dollars.  It’s going to change the geopolitical balance between nations, it’s going to mean that ordinary folks like you and I and Joe Six-pack are all going to have to do things differently.

But nobody likes to lose money, nobody likes to lose political power and nobody likes to change their familiar and comfortable life-style.   Joe Six-pack doesn’t want to hear that his big two smoke-stack turbo diesel truck is bad for the planet and we can’t afford to have it running around any more.  The folks making money cutting down the Amazon rain forest don’t want to hear it.  The fishermen fishing the fish in the sea into extinction don’t want to hear it.   The folks buying cheap shit at Wal-Mart, don’t want to hear it.

And that brings these findings of the scientists right smack up against human nature.

And that human nature doesn’t want to change and it will begin to squirm and look for every reason and excuse it can to dodge the bullet and to avoid having to change, or lose money or whatever it is.

When the scientists decided that 70% of the entire universe was made of dark matter a few years ago, no one demonstrated in the streets or began to talk against it on the Rush Limbaugh show.   It didn’t get into anyone’s back pocket – so they didn’t care.

But CO2 and Global Climate Change is going to get into all our back pockets – big time.

Let me take you back and give you some history.   I learned what I’m going to tell you from a book entitled, Red Sky at Morning by Gustave Speth.

In the 1970’s, environmentalists in the U.S. were just beginning to push their efforts to get laws passed like the Clean Air Act and the Food and Drug Laws.  The public was mildly interested and industry was ignoring all of it.   Then Three Mile Island and a few other things all happened at about the same time and suddenly the public was very hot to support environmental protection laws.  The result was that a lot of laws about protecting the air and the water and such were all passed at once before the industry folks were really awake to what was happening.

Industry lost a lot of money because of all of these new laws and they vowed to never be asleep at the wheel again.

About 10 years later, in the 1980’s, the environmentalists began to realize that they could not protect the entire world by just passing good laws in the U.S.   They needed to expand their efforts and begin to fight for environmental protection laws that would be international in scope.  By the early 90’s the alarms were being sounded that we needed to do some things internationally or we, as a species, and as a planet, were going to have big problems.

But this time industry was not asleep.   They’d been burned once by not paying attention.   Now, every time an effort was mounted to increase environmental protection globally, industry looked at the proposed laws and if they could see that such a law was going to cost them big money, they mobilized to confuse people and to prevent the political will from developing to pass such a law.

This cat and mouse game has been going on for two decades now.   At first the scientists simply published the results of the scientific research in papers.  They trusted that people would be smart enough to see the writing on the wall.   But, industry confused people and confused the issues.  They published counter studies that seemed to show the opposite conclusions.

So scientists and environmental activists began to talk louder trying to get their messages and warnings out.  And industry fought back harder.  And the entire thing escalated up and up.

Most scientists now think that the entire “Global Climate Change is because of CO2” issue has been definitively proven over and over beyond the shadow of any doubt.   But the public doesn’t think that.   They are still deeply confused by the mis-information industry has been putting out for just that purpose – to confuse them and to therefore prevent political will from developing that could result in some real laws getting passed.

What’s going on in Copenhagen now is a great example.   Many people think that awareness of our environmental problems has finally gotten to the point where the world’s leaders might actually come together and try to do something real to prevent a major environmental and climate disaster.   And then, two weeks before the conference, the other side unleashes a major campaign to throw doubt on the scientific conclusions and to mess the entire conference up.

And, I fear, they are doing a pretty good job.   Frankly, I think we’re toast and I’ve thought so for a long time.   Human nature is just too predictable and to easily manipulated.   Those who want to convince the public that the climate science is wrong actually have a pretty easy time of it because Joe Six-pack and folks like him would prefer to believe that nothing’s going on because it is way easier than thinking about the fact that they might have to change their consumerist lifestyles.

So yeah, some folks are sounding like shrill Chicken Littles.  Why?  Because it is a damn desperate situation and the world is likely to go into the toilet in spite of the very best efforts of the environmentalists.  And they are worried about it.

After reading over what I’ve written here, I realize that I’ve only partially answered what you actually asked.  You asked for some balance on the question of how CO2 is processed by the environment.

There are a lot of answers to that because, as you can imagine, the world’s climate and biosphere is a wickedly complex system.   But, here are a few of the high points:

– The level of CO2 in the atmosphere hasn’t been this high in 6 million years.

– The current swift rise in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is faster than anything we can see in the climate records back for 6 million years.

– This rise corresponds with the rise of industrial civilization.   It begins in the climate record just about the time industrialization began when the English started building factories in the 1840’s or so and it increases in the climate record in pace with the increasing rise in industrial production.

– The denialists say that the rise in CO2 is a natural thing and has nothing to do with the CO2 humans are putting into the air.   I find that an amazing idea.   It’s like saying, “I just tromped down on the gas pedal and now the car is going really fast.”   And then having someone tell you that it’s just a coincidence and that the gas pedal has nothing to do with the acceleration.  Yeah, right.

– Nature does have some ability to absorb excess CO2.  The ocean absorbs a lot of it.  But, it cannot keep up with the rate we’re adding it to the air.   And, as the ocean absorbs it, the water becomes more acidic.  As it becomes more acidic, it makes it harder for ocean animals that have shells to make their shells because the acidification interferes with their chemistry.  At some point, this rise in dissolved CO2 is really going to mess with some huge food chains in the ocean.

– Plants and trees like CO2 and use and absorb it.  To a point.  Add a little more CO2 and a little more heat and they thrive.    But, add a bit more and they begin to weaken and wilt and their ability to absorb CO2 lessens.   This is true for the majority of plants and trees.   There are some exceptions but they are a minority and what really matters is what the majority of the world’s plants and trees are likely to do.  And what they are likely to do it not good.

– Big coal has been yammering on for years about CO2 sequestration.  But, in spite of many big public relations splashes, no one yet has made a full scale carbon sequestration plant that works.   In the mean time, China is building one or more coal fired dirty power production plants a week!   Much of the public thinks “clean coal” is either a done deal or very close.   It truth, it is miles and mile off and maybe we’ll never have it.

– The problem is bigger that just how much CO2 we’re putting into the air.  That’s bad and we can see it ramping up.  But, it is causing other problems much as one fire creates others as the embers fly.

– The arctic ice is melting and as it does, the white snow and ice disappear and the darker sea and land underneath become visible.  The white reflected heat back into space.   The darker stuff being exposed absorbs it.  So there’s more heating going on because of this and it, in turn, causes more ice and snow to melt.  It is a positive feed back cycle and it is beginning to get up onto legs of its own.

– Glaciers all over the world, with very few exceptions, are melting.  The winter snow falls that used to stay in the mountains and then melt in the summer are going away and that’s going to have a huge impact on human beings.  The summer water that millions need to grow crops and survive is going away, soon.  We’re talking most of the west coast of South America, the Southwestern U.S., Northern India and a huge swath across Central China from east to west.  We’ve never seen anything like the disruption and starvation that will result.

Dave, I’ve been reading this stuff for years and this is just a part of what I’ve read.  Scientists have no reason to make this stuff up.  But, folks who make big big bucks by keeping the world running as it is now have a huge motivation to not see and react to the coming global climate changes.  These folks have a lot of money and they think that even if there are big problems, they will have to money to hang out in nice villas up in the Alps and where ever while the rest of use starve and fight it out in the streets.

All they have to do is keep us confused so we won’t shut their party down.


So many amplifying methane feedbacks, so little time to stop them all

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

The UK’s National Oceanography Centre in Southampton reports:

The warming of an Arctic current over the last 30 years has triggered the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from methane hydrate stored in the sediment beneath the seabed.

German and British scientists “have found that more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres”

Methane released from gas hydrate in submarine sediments has been identified in the past as an agent of climate change. The likelihood of methane being released in this way has been widely predicted.

A lead researcher said, “Our survey was designed to work out how much methane might be released by future ocean warming; we did not expect to discover such strong evidence that this process has already started.”

This is the first time that such behaviour in response to climate change has been observed in the modern period.

While most of the methane currently released from the seabed is dissolved in the seawater before it reaches the atmosphere, methane seeps are episodic and unpredictable and periods of more vigorous outflow of methane into the atmosphere are possible. Furthermore, methane dissolved in the seawater contributes to ocean acididfication.

Geophysics Professor Graham Westbrook warns: “If this process becomes widespread along Arctic continental margins, tens of megatonnes of methane per year – equivalent to 5-10% of the total amount released globally by natural sources, could be released into the ocean.”


– Research thanks to Kael

An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

– This is a great place to start if you want to get the big overview of Global Climate Change and its consequences.   And recall that this, as big as it is, is only a part of the bigger picture that I’ve been calling The Perfect Storm.

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In this post, I will examine the key impacts we face by 2100 if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path. I will focus primarily on:

  • Staggeringly high temperature rise, especially over land — some 15°F over much of the United States
  • Sea level rise of 5 feet, rising some 6 to 12 inches (or more) each decade thereafter
  • Dust Bowls over the U.S. SW and many other heavily populated regions around the globe
  • Massive species loss on land and sea — 50% or more of all life
  • Unexpected impacts — the fearsome “unknown unknowns”
  • More severe hurricanes — especially in the Gulf

Equally tragic, as a 2009 NOAA-led study found, these impacts be “largely irreversible for 1000 years.”

More… <== Please continue, this is well worth a good read!

Ocean Dead Zones Likely To Expand: Increasing Carbon Dioxide And Decreasing Oxygen Make It Harder For Deep-sea Animals To Breath

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

New calculations made by marine chemists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) suggest that low-oxygen “dead zones” in the ocean could expand significantly over the next century. These predictions are based on the fact that, as more and more carbon dioxide dissolves from the atmosphere into the ocean, marine animals will need more oxygen to survive.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide are increasing rapidly in the Earth’s atmosphere, primarily because of human activities. About one third of the carbon dioxide that humans produce by burning fossil fuels is being absorbed by the world’s oceans, gradually causing seawater to become more acidic.

However, such “ocean acidification” is not the only way that carbon dioxide can harm marine animals. In a “Perspective” published in the journal Science, Peter Brewer and Edward Peltzer combine published data on rising levels of carbon dioxide and declining levels of oxygen in the ocean in a set of new and thermodynamically rigorous calculations. They show that increases in carbon dioxide can make marine animals more susceptible to low concentrations of oxygen, and thus exacerbate the effects of low-oxygen “dead zones” in the ocean.

Brewer and Peltzer’s calculations also show that the partial pressure of dissolved carbon dioxide gas (pCO2) in low-oxygen zones will rise much higher than previously thought. This could have significant consequences for marine life in these zones.


‘Coral lab’ offers acidity insight

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities are acidifying the oceans and threaten a mass extinction of sea life, a top ocean scientist warns.

Dr Carol Turley from Plymouth Marine Laboratory says it is impossible to know how marine life will cope, but she fears many species will not survive.

Since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 emissions have already turned the sea about 30% more acidic, say researchers.

It is more acidic now than it has been for at least 500,000 years, they add.

The problem is set to worsen as emissions of the greenhouse gas increase through the 21st Century.

“I am very worried for ocean ecosystems which are currently productive and diverse,” Carol Turely told BBC News.

“I believe we may be heading for a mass extinction, as the rate of change in the oceans hasn’t been seen since the dinosaurs.

“It may have a major impact on food security. It really is imperative that we cut emissions of CO2.”

Dr Turley is chairing a session on ocean acidification at the Copenhagen Climate Change Congress.


Climate scenarios ‘being realised’

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

The worst-case scenarios on climate change envisaged by the UN two years ago are already being realised, say scientists at an international meeting.

In a statement in Copenhagen on their six key messages to political leaders, they say there is a increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts.

Even modest temperature rises will affect millions of people, particularly in the developing world, they warn.

But, they say, most tools needed to cut carbon dioxide emissions already exist.

More than 2,500 researchers and economists attended this meeting designed to update the world on the state of climate research ahead of key political negotiations set for December this year.

New data was presented in Copenhagen on sea level rise, which indicated that the best estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made two years ago were woefully out of date.

Scientists heard that waters could rise by over a metre across the world with huge impacts for hundreds of millions of people.

There was also new information on how the Amazon rainforest would cope with rising temperatures. A UK Meteorological Office study concluded there would be a 75% loss of tree cover if the world warmed by three degrees for a century.

The scientists hope that their conclusions will remove any excuses from the political process.

Dr Katherine Richardson, who chaired the scientific steering committee that organised the conference, said the research presented added new certainty to the IPCC reports.

“We’ve seen lots more data, we can see where we are, no new surprises, we have a problem.”