Oceans Becoming Hot, Sour and Breathless

Oceans home to 80% of all life — plankton provide 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe

By Stephen Leahy

DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 3 (IPS)

The world’s oceans are becoming hot, sour and breathless – threatening a vital source of food for a billion people mainly in the developing world experts warned today at a special Oceans Day event at the UN climate negotiation.

Oceans are home 80 percent of all life on the planet and emissions from fossil fuels are turning them increasingly acidic, raising water temperatures and reducing the amount of oxygen in some regions said oceanographer Carol Turley from Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK.

“We don’t know what all the consequences will be. We suspect the combination of all three will be far worse than one alone,” Turley told IPS in an interview on the sidelines of climate treaty negotiations known as COP 17.

It was only a few years ago that researchers realised that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) was making the surface waters of oceans more acidic. The oceans naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and have now absorbed about a third of all human emissions. That has kept the climate from warming faster but the additional carbon is altering the oceans’ chemistry making them 30 percent more acidic.

One documented impact is that shell-forming creatures like plankton produce thinner shells in more acidic ocean waters. These species are often very important parts of the marine food chain. As emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere increase the more the ocean sours.

[See a powerful 11 min film on Ocean acidification]

In less than ten years at least 10 per cent of the Arctic Ocean surface waters will be too acid for shell-forming species like plankton. By 2040 most of the Arctic Ocean will be too acidic as will significant areas of the Antarctic Ocean said Turley.

Change in sea water acidity pH caused by anthr...The cold waters of the polar regions allow more CO2 to be absorbed faster. The oceans haven’t seen a rapid change like this in 60 million years, she explained.

“But there will also be strange impacts. New research is showing changes in growth, behaviour and reproduction in a variety of non-shell forming species.”

Estuaries and ocean upwelling zones that are often important fishing grounds are also regions where acidification is fastest. Those areas are also subject to low oxygen levels and increasing temperatures creating new conditions in the oceans that no marine species has ever had to cope with.

Oceans are also absorbing most of the extra heat trapped by the additional CO2 in the atmosphere. Again, without this land temperatures would far higher and extreme weather events far worse.

“There is some evidence that some crab species cannot tolerate higher temperatures when ocean is more acidic,” she said.

Continue reading

Coral Reefs In Dire Peril – 75% May Die In Coming Years

One of the most incredible natural wonders of our world is being decimated by our actions: burning fossil fuel, pollution of land and sea, overfishing. The most recent estimate shows 75% of the world’s coral reefs are threatened according to new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and 24 other organizations. The report is “Reefs at Risk Revisited“.

Here’s one thing you can do to help. Follow and encourage others to live by these Three Simple Rules:

1. Reduce.

Reduce fossil fuel consumption everywhere.

2. Eliminate.

Eliminate all non-essential activities and products that involve burning fossil fuel.

3. Demand.

Demand that business and government provide transport, activities and products that minimize fossil fuel use.

Reduce. Eliminate. Demand. R.E.D.

More on the Corals, Ocean Acidification, Bleaching, Overfishing.

I have written more than 15 articles in last few years about the serious threats corals face:

Record Heat Killing Caribbean and Indian Ocean Corals

What if our air was 30% more acidic like the Oceans? May be 120% more acidic by 2060

Coral Reefs and Acid Oceans Series

Reefs and Forests Burn as Climate Disruption Takes Hold NOW

What if our air was 30% more acidic like the Oceans? May be 120% more acidic by 2060

Bleached coastal corals. Bantry Bay, Australia. R Leahy 2006

[2°C is a death sentence for corals scientists agree due to ocean acidification and bleaching resulting from emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However the developed nations of the world have set 2 degrees C as the climate stabilization target not that any of them have figured out how to reach this target. It is as if the oceans don’t matter. This reflects a fundamental ignorance about life on Earth, an assumption that we can lose or seriously damage entire ecosystems without suffering any consequences.

This story shows we need to get serious about tackling emission reductions (below 2C) and preserving anything that sequesters or traps carbon because these will be tremendously valuable in a climate-changed world . — Steve

By Stephen Leahy*

COPENHAGEN, Dec 11 (IPS/TerraViva)

What would it be like if the air we breathe was 30 percent more acidic? The oceans are already 30 percent more acidic, and on their way to becoming 120 percent more acidic in 50 years at the current rates of carbon dioxide emissions.

Acidification is already affecting coral reefs, algae and plankton, the base of many marine food chains, according to a new report released here by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“In the last 10 years, the growth of coral reefs in many areas has declined 15 percent,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.

“That’s a dramatic shift,” Lundin told TerraViva.

The oceans absorb some carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, but the vast quantity being emitted – mainly from the burning of fossil fuels – has altered basic ocean chemistry, turning it sour. That’s also affecting shell-forming plankton and disrupting the growth rates of other species, Lundin said.

The stated goal of many countries to stabilise global temperatures within an increase of no more than 2.0 degrees C. is still “a death sentence for most coral reefs”, he said. The 2.0 C. target implies a level of CO2 in the atmosphere of 450 parts per million (ppm), well up from the historical average of 280 ppm. Continue reading

Deep CO2 Cuts May Be Last Hope for Acid Oceans

(Report from the World Oceans Conference in Indonesia)

gbr cap mushroom death4By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 15 (IPS) –

Ocean acidification offers the clearest evidence of dangers of climate change.

And yet the indisputable fact that burning fossil fuels is slowly turning the oceans into an acid bath has been largely ignored by industrialised countries and their climate treaty negotiators, concluded delegates from 76 countries at the World Oceans Conference in Manado, Indonesia.

Oceans and coastal areas must be on the agenda at the crucial climate talks in Copenhagen in December, they wrote in a declaration. “We must come to the rescue of the oceans,” declared Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the opening of high-level government talks on Thursday in the northern city of Manado.

It is fair to say most international climate negotiators aren’t aware of the impacts of climate change on the oceans, said Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.

“Very few people understand that carbon emissions are making the oceans acidic,” Lundin told IPS.

Continue reading

Acid Oceans and Seas Without Fish – Hot New Doc

seachange-header

Lots of buzz about a hot, new documentary film A Sea Change which is about ocean acidification and its potential to empty the oceans of fish. I haven’t seen the film although I had a chance to at a seafood conference in San Diego last month but couldn’t face a visual version of a topic I’ve written about since 2006.  I have enough trouble sleeping as it is… 

Turns out the filmmakers got the idea to make the film by ‘googling’  “ocean acidification” in Nov 2006 and found very few entries. I guess my 2006 articles were among the first-ever articles published about ocean acidification and how climate change is a major threat to the global oceans. — Stephen

July 5 2006

Ailing Reefs Face New Threat of Acidity
By Stephen Leahy

Climate change is making the world’s oceans more acidic, seriously endangering marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. 

Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have already made the oceans 30 percent more acidic than they have been in millions of years, according to a new report by leading scientists. And the rate of acidification is accelerating as the oceans absorb more than two billion tonnes of carbon each year from the atmosphere. 

“This is a dramatic change in the world’s oceans, a change that marine organisms have never dealt with before,” said Joan Kleypas, the report’s lead author and a scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. 

“The oceans have changed and they are becoming more acidic. There is no debate about this,” Kleypas told IPS. Continue reading