Oceans on the Brink: Dying Plankton, Dead Zones, Acidification

A number of marine diatom cells

By Stephen Leahy

[Originally published Jul 31, 2010 for the Inter Press Service (IPS)]

The oceans are the lifeblood of our planet and plankton its red blood cells. Those vital “red blood cells” have declined more than 40 percent since 1950 and the rate of decline is increasing due to climate change, scientists reported this week. (Update Dec 2016: New analysis show this is an overestimate. See my comment below.)

Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary life support system. They produce half of the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface CO2, and ultimately support all of our fisheries,” said

Boris Worm of Canadas Dalhousie University and one of the worlds leading experts on the global oceans.

“An ocean with less phytoplankton will function differently,” said Worm, the co-author of a new study on plankton published this week in Nature. Plankton are the equivalent of grass, trees and other plants that make land green, says study co-author Marlon Lewis, an oceanographer at Dalhousie.

“It is frightening to realise we have lost nearly half of the oceans’ green plants,” Lewis told IPS.

“It looks like the rate of decline is increasing,” he said.

A large phytoplankton bloom in the Northeast Atlantic -NASA Earth Observatory Collection.

[See also my series of articles on ocean acidification]

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Climate change is warming the oceans about 0.2C per decade on average. This warmer water tends to stay on top because it is lighter and essentially sits on top of a layer of colder water. This layering, or stratification, is a problem for light-loving plankton because they can only live in the top 100 to 200 meters.

Eventually they run out of nutrients to feed on unless the cold, deeper waters mix with those near the surface. Ocean stratification has been widely observed in the past decade and is occurring in more and larger areas of the world’s oceans. Continue reading

Climate Change Explained in 165 Words

The moon has no atmosphere so it is scorching hot (+100C) during the day and bitterly cold (-150C) at night. The Earth has an atmosphere made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. Over 150 years ago scientists proved that CO2 traps heat from the sun. We also know without any doubt that burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal emits CO2.

Measurements, not computer models or theories, measurements show that there is now 46% more CO2 in the atmosphere than 150 years ago before massive use of fossil fuels. That extra CO2 is like putting another blanket on at night even though you are already nice and warm.

The Earth is now 1.0 C hotter on average according to the latest measurements. Heat is a form of energy and with so much more energy in our atmosphere our weather system is becoming supercharged resulting in stronger storms, worse heat waves, major changes in when and where rain falls and more.

[For story behind this explanation – a Russian journalist and a bar are involved – click here. (only 320 words!)]

terrifying co2 graph
Graphic by Peter Gleick, President-Emeritus/Chief Scientist Pacific Institute
consensus_500
These climate experts publish studies in peer-reviewed journals like Nature or Science. There is a something called the ‘Oregon Petition’ that claims otherwise. However some of the signatories are fraudulent, such as Charles Darwin and members of the Spice Girls, and less than 1% of signatories have backgrounds in climate science.

Global Warming Explained… in 320 words

carbon-neutral-pub
Briton’s 1st carbon-neutral pub (Aston-Hayes)

One night in a bar a Russian journalist who I’d just met says:  “This global warming is too complicated for people to know if it’s real or not”.

“You don’t think climate change is happening?” I asked with surprise since we were both covering a big United Nations climate conference.

“No one has been able to give me a good explanation to prove it’s real,” said Yuri (not his real name).

“I can explain it to you in less than one minute,” I replied.

Yuri was sceptical but I went ahead and said:

“The moon has no atmosphere so it is scorching hot (+100C) during the day and bitterly cold (-150C) at night. The Earth has an atmosphere made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. Over 150 years ago scientists proved that CO2 traps heat from the sun. We also know without any doubt that burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal emits CO2.

Measurements, not computer models or theories, measurements show that there is now 42% more CO2 in the atmosphere than 150 years ago before massive use of fossil fuels. That extra CO2 is like putting another blanket on at night even though you are already nice and warm. The Earth is now 1.0 C hotter on average according to the latest measurements. Heat is a form of energy and with so much more energy in our atmosphere our weather system is becoming supercharged resulting in stronger storms, worse heat waves, major changes in when and where rain falls and more.

That’s it.

After a long silence Yuri says “I guess that makes sense…”.

I’m not sure he was convinced but the truth is that climate change is not that complicated.

One additional thing to know is that CO2 is forever. Every little CO2 molecule we add to the atmosphere will continue to trap the sun’s heat for hundreds and thousands of years.

First published Aug 2015

terrifying co2 graph

Why the Paris Agreement is Historic – In 60 Words

cop21 logo sml

Every country in the world just agreed to:

1. Phase out fossil fuels well before the end of the century

2. Try to keep global warming to less than 1.5C (very difficult since it’s already 1.0C)

3. Rich countries will help poor countries to green their economies, help pay for the damages from climate impacts and help them adapt to future impacts.

[The Paris Agreement is like buying life insurance. It’s for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.]

Paris Climate Talks – What Does “Emissions Neutrality” Mean?

cop21 logo smlWhat Does “Emissions Neutrality” Really Mean?

Explainer:
Negotiators have deleted specific emission reduction targets for the long-term goal i.e. +2050. Thursday night in Paris a new proposal surfaced for “greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions neutrality in the second half of the century, on the basis of equity and guided by science in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”.

This should mean zero GHG emissions from all sectors by first reducing emissions to near zero and then using negative emissions (taking CO2 etc out of the atmosphere) to achieve net zero.

Defining it as GHG neutrality vs carbon neutrality is very important from climate science perspective. In 2012, 23% of emissions were non-CO2 greenhouse gases.

Bottom line:

There is no way to get to 1.5C or 2.0C without GHG neutrality before 2100. What’s missing in the agreement is a specific time table – “second half of the century” is pretty vague. Expect this to change at some future COP (yes there will be many more) when the science catches up with figuring out what is needed to achieve it.

Paris Climate Talks – Reactions to New Dec 10 Text

Things are moving faster than expected, debate continues overnight with hopes of a final agreement ready to be voted on late Friday. We’ll see. Remember this is a consensus process, one country can hold up the rest. 

NEW TEXT HEREcop21 logo sml

It is slightly longer with about 50 brackets – down from 150 to 200. 

Some reactions in the order they were made:

“The standard of any effective climate policy is clear: does it keep fossil fuels in the ground and accelerate a just transition to 100% renewable energy?

The commitments we are seeing in the text are a start, but they won’t get the job done, so activists are already mobilizing to close the gap between rhetoric and reality.”
— Payal Parekh, 350.org Global Managing Director

At first glance happy with new COP21 draft – target ‘well below 2C’ and ’emissions neutrality’ in 2050-2100 both ambitious but achievable
— Corinne Le Quéré (@clequere)

$100bn confirmed as rich nations’ floor in new draft Paris #COP21 text. Left – today Right – yesterday
— Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans)

#Oceans #biodiversity & “Mother Earth” out of #brackets in Preamble #update #UNFCCC #COP21
— Paris Agreement News (@ParisAgreement)

Binding part of new #climate agreement draft no longer includes #humanrights – that is going to upset a lot of people
— Megan Rowling ‏@meganrowlin

I see “people in vulnerable situations and under occupation” remains… here’s why that’s a little tricky: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2015/12/07/israel-palestine-conflict-seeps-into-paris-climate-talks-in-human-rights-row/
— Edward King

As I’ve been saying, addition of 1.5C wording is about recognizing harm to small islands and other countries #COP21 pic.twitter.com/Cw4Di5dtGz
Simon Donner (@simondonner)

3rd draft is out. No liability/compensation. Adriano Campolina of @ActionAid called it “draft deal that denies the world justice”
— Stella Paul (@stellasglobe)

By including a clause for no future claim of compensation and liability, the US has ensured people suffering from the disastrous impacts of climate change will never be able to seek the justice owed to them.

This unfair and unjust draft deal won’t face up to the realities of climate change and will only serve to widen the chasm between rich and poor.Rich countries have a responsibility to ensure a fair global deal for everyone, not just themselves, and as we move into these final hours of negotiations poorer countries must not settle for anything less.
— Adriano Campolina, ActionAid Chief Executive

New #COP21 text is remarkably streamlined. But big issues on target, differentiation (funding) & transparency still open. Important progress
— Simon Lewis (@SimonLLewis)

First published on the Climate News Mosaic Paris Climate Talks Live Blog available here:
Inter Press Service News Agency (International)
DeSmog Blog (Seattle)
Philippine EnviroNews (Philippines)
Earth Journalism (International)
Watson (Switzerland)
Skeptical Science (International)