Ocean Currents

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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy


About Sarah Cooley

Sarah Cooley, Ph.D. joined Ocean Conservancy as a Science Outreach Manager in the Ocean Acidification program in January. Previously, she was a research scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Don’t Forget the Ocean!

Posted On October 14, 2015 by

Around here, we’re always thinking about the ocean. But sometimes the ocean isn’t always top-of-mind for world leaders, who must balance many pressing concerns. Nevertheless, dozens of world political, scientific, and environmental leaders made time to attend the second “Our Ocean” conference in Valparaiso, Chile last week.

Continuing the momentum developed at the first “Our Ocean” meeting in June 2014, speakers reviewed the critical importance of caring for the ocean that sustains human life. Ocean acidification was one of the main conference topics, and speakers underscored our best option for curbing it: cutting atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution.

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Unraveling Ocean Acidification’s Mysteries Along the Coast

Posted On October 13, 2015 by

In the past, we’ve shared good news with you about ocean acidification research funds allocated by the Federal government. Ever wonder what sorts of research projects NOAA supports with this money? A few days ago, NOAA announced three new awards to universities totaling $1.3 million to study how ocean acidification is changing the coastal ocean. We already know that nearshore waters are becoming more acidic and losing oxygen. These three universities will be looking at the root causes, and trying to understand what that means for marine plants and animals, and the people that rely on them.

What’s new and particularly ambitious about these projects is that they will study ocean acidification in coastal environments, which are incredibly complex. Not only do coastal waters take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they also receive fertilizer, sewage, and toxic chemical pollution from coastal development, host vibrant ecosystems, and receive pulses of freshwater runoff after storms. The net effect is that coastal water chemistry is the product of these layered processes. None of the processes happens at the same time or in the same place, making it difficult to understand which processes drive which effects.

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Florida Turns Attention to Ocean Acidification

Posted On September 9, 2015 by

Florida is famous for its beaches—it has more coastline than any other state in the Lower 48. And beyond all that sand lies an ocean wonderland of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and thriving fisheries. The state’s offshore attractions are nearly as iconic as its sunny weather, and that is why Florida leaders from a variety of sectors are working together to prepare for a changing ocean.

Last week, Ocean Conservancy and Mote Marine Laboratory teamed up to host a roundtable on ocean acidification (OA) in Florida. The goal of the day was to bring OA out of research circles and into the public space, by convening scientists, elected officials, journalists, industry and environmental organization representatives, and local resource managers to discuss knowns and unknowns. It’s part of a groundswell of attention to OA happening now in Florida.

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The Ocean, At a Crossroads

Posted On July 3, 2015 by

fish and corals in the Florida Keys

Photo: NOAA

This post is a collaboration between Sarah Cooley, Ph.D. (Ocean Conservancy), Ryan Kelly, Ph.D., J.D. (U. Washington) and C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D. (NOAA)

Readers of this blog know that ocean acidification is here, today. They also know that states on both coasts and the federal government are working to halt its progress and manage its impacts. But the ocean is heedless of borders. A healthy ocean future will require global action. That is why we have our eyes on December’s Paris climate conference (COP21). Decisions made there will determine whether our children will inherit a changed-but-recognizable ocean that still provides humanity with goods and services, or a damaged ocean lacking many resources we want. There is still time for us to reduce emissions and slow the warming and acidification of our ocean, but we have to act now. That is one of the conclusions we reach in a paper out today in Science.

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Thanks to the Ocean… It’s Like a Mother to Us!

Posted On May 10, 2015 by

Let’s take a moment on Mother’s Day to remember the ocean. Like mothers everywhere, the ocean looks out for us in the most basic ways. It’s easy to take those things for granted. Thanks, Mother Ocean, because you:

Gave us life. Earth scientists believe that the first life on Earth arose in the ocean, which brought together chemicals in a rich “soup” that gave rise to primitive cells. These early life forms evolved and diversified into the myriad organisms that exist today.

Keep us warm. The ocean stores a tremendous amount of heat that regulates the planet’s overall temperature. Ocean currents redistribute heat around the Earth to keep temperatures relatively stable. Not too hot and not too cold, the Earth’s small overall temperature range is critical for our survival.

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Making Even Better Decisions About Sea Scallop Harvests

Posted On May 7, 2015 by

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, flippy whale, sai kung

How do you like to make big, complicated decisions? I like to write lists of pros and cons associated with the choice I’m leaning towards. That’s served me well for changing jobs, selling houses and more.

But for complex systems, like fisheries, simply comparing pros and cons of one choice isn’t enough. There are many moving parts in a fishery, and they are interconnected. For example, when fishermen harvest sea scallops, they reduce the overall number of scallops in an area, and change the age and size distribution of individual scallops. At the same time, factors like rising water temperature, availability of food, or quality of habitat can also affect scallop populations, and external factors like the price of scallops or gasoline can influence the intensity of fishing effort. So, changes in a fishery often lead to outcomes that don’t necessarily generate neat bullets you can compare on a balance sheet.

It’s especially challenging to plan for both short and long term changes in a fishery. Most fisheries are managed to accommodate short-term changes that last a few years, like natural fluctuations in population size. But fisheries management today generally doesn’t also consider long-term changes spanning many decades, like warming and ocean acidification, even though we know those changes are gradually tilting the playing field for many marine species.

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Lessons From History on Ocean Acidification

Posted On April 29, 2015 by

fish and corals in the Florida Keys

Photo: NOAA

Part of my job involves fielding worried emails and phone calls about alarming-sounding science news, especially when it relates to ocean acidification. Recently a study in Science made a big splash, generating headlines like “Ocean acidification caused the largest mass extinction ever” and “Acidic oceans helped fuel extinction.” And those are some of the calmer headlines. Naturally, people are saying, “This is scary stuff! Are we going to see the same thing?” Let’s take a look.

When studying major global changes like warming, ocean acidification, or ocean oxygen loss, scientists often look back in the geological record to see what happened when Earth experienced similar conditions before. That helps scientists put global change in the proper perspective.

In past geological ages when volcanic activity has been high, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen and dramatically changed the Earth’s climate and ocean chemistry. Last week’s Science study focuses on one of these periods—the Permo-Triassic (P-T) boundary. It’s one of the most “rapid” releases of volcanic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, taking 60,000 years. As slow as that seems, it’s fast for the Earth—60,000 years out of a 4.5 billion year old planet’s life is like half a day of a 100-year-old person’s life. All this volcanic carbon dioxide drove rapid ocean acidification towards the end of the P-T boundary, and a major extinction of ocean life followed. Marine life with calcified shells and skeletons, like corals, shellfish and calcifying algae, were pretty much wiped out.

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