The Blog Aquatic » carbon dioxide http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 22 Aug 2014 01:10:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Youngsters Need Energy to Grow http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/02/26/youngsters-need-energy-to-grow/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/02/26/youngsters-need-energy-to-grow/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 02:00:29 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7577

There’s a shift happening in the way scientists are thinking about how ocean acidification affects marine creatures. Originally, when researchers in the Southern Ocean watched the shells of tiny marine snails dissolve in high-carbon dioxide water, they suspected that similar animals with calcium carbonate shells and skeletons would most likely be harmed by ocean acidification. After all, this made intuitive sense: Ocean acidification means there is more carbon dioxide in the water, which lowers the water’s pH. All of this decreases the amount  of carbonate ions in the ocean—the chemical building blocks found in animals’ shells. Wouldn’t decreases in these building blocks rob animals of the very things they need to build their shells?

Ocean acidification biological research has looked at this “building blocks” hypothesis for a while. Many excellent studies have shown that time after time, decreases in seawater carbonate ion levels are associated with decreases in shell building by corals, plankton, oysters, and more. But that clear relationship doesn’t hold for crabs and lobsters, even though they too have calcium carbonate in their shells. And different shell formers respond to different degrees of change. What’s going on?

The newest generation of research points to energy, or the lack of it, as the culprit. Presentations at yesterday’s ocean acidification sessions at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting showed that algae, red coral, mussels, and even very young Dungeness crabs — all shell builders — are most likely not suffering from a lack of shell building blocks. Rather, the problem is bigger. They’re spending more energy existing in water chemistry that just isn’t very comfortable overall, so they have less energy for growing, reproducing, and surviving. Younger, fast-growing organisms tend to take it harder than older ones, since they don’t have a lot of reserves to draw from. This “energy crisis” hypothesis also helps explain some other ocean acidification response results of higher animals without shells, like squid and finfish.

To understand exactly what’s going on, we need new kinds of experiments to look at the different amounts of energy species need to survive and thrive. That’s the next horizon in ocean acidification research!

Follow the conversation around the meeting on Twitter with the hashtag #2014OSM and by following me at @co2ley

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Scallops Feel Acidification’s Impact; Lessons to Be Learned From Oyster Growers http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/02/26/scallops-feel-acidifications-impact-lessons-to-be-learned-from-oyster-growers/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/02/26/scallops-feel-acidifications-impact-lessons-to-be-learned-from-oyster-growers/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 23:06:11 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7597

Photo: Rita Leistner/Ocean Conservancy

The Internet is buzzing: A scallop farming business in British Columbia, Canada, has lost $10 million and 10 million scallops because of ocean acidification. Island Scallops’ CEO Rob Saunders’ despair came through crystal clear in his quotes: “I’m not sure we’re going to make it,” and “[Acidification] has really kicked the hell out of us.”

Saunders has been in the business for 35 years and has never seen anything like this. This is a shocking story for many – corrosive water because of carbon pollution single-handedly destroying a scallop business? It sounds eerily familiar to what Pacific Northwest hatchery owners in Washington and Oregon experienced in 2007 and 2008, when oyster larvae were dying by the billions. Whiskey Creek Hatchery and Taylor Shellfish Farms lost nearly 80 percent of their businesses due to increasingly acidic water.

Things seemed hopeless in the Pacific Northwest until scientists and researchers at Oregon State University worked together to monitor the acidity of the water that the hatcheries were drawing in to their tanks. They were able to make adjustments to their operations that have allowed them to stay in business, and ultimately, thrive. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was critical to the effort, earmarking much-needed funds for monitoring and research. This collective effort to tackle OA led to the first-ever initiative to address acidification in the state, including the establishment of a new acidification research center at the University of Washington. Washington’s model is being emulated by other states like Maine.

This story of success is critical to Saunders’ experience. His operation and farm is very different from those of the oyster growers, but are there lessons that can be learned? The oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest have sounded the alarm that acidification is threatening their businesses and livelihoods. They were instrumental in bringing attention to this issue. An early-warning system for acidification has enabled them to stay in business. Is there a similar solution that would help Saunders’ business and other scallop farmers? Would a significant investment in an early-warning system for British Columbia be a game changer for these businesses that rely on a healthy ocean?

I am optimistic because of the great model we have from the Pacific Northwest (and because scallops are tied with oysters as quite possibly my favorite food). Ocean acidification is a big issue. It’s daunting. More stories like Saunders’ will come out in the future. But armed with the knowledge that rural communities and livelihoods are suffering as a result of what we are doing to the ocean, we have a responsibility to speak up, to get funding for cutting-edge research and monitoring, and to stop talking about this issue as if it’s hopeless. States and oyster growers have shown that action on acidification is possible.

These collective local solutions can add up to something big, but that doesn’t mean we can stop pushing for more action on the national level. The federal government currently budgets only $6 million a year for ocean acidification research. We’ve launched an online petition calling on Congress to double its research funding this year to help deepen our scientific understanding of this problem and protect thousands of jobs through awareness and adaptation. The appropriations deadline is coming up fast (March 31), so tell your elected officials to act now.

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UPDATE: The Ocean in a High CO2 World http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/25/update-the-ocean-in-a-high-co2-world/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/25/update-the-ocean-in-a-high-co2-world/#comments Tue, 25 Jun 2013 17:29:06 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6189 polar bearsPresident Obama’s plan to address climate change is a step in the right direction on the long road toward making real progress in reducing carbon pollution. There is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we are already seeing the impacts. It’s urgent, and we must act now.

The Arctic is experiencing the effects of climate change more than anywhere else, with air temperatures warming about twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Water temperatures are rising and seasonal sea ice is melting at a record-breaking pace.

As we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it, becoming 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. This has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.

There is something we can do about it. The ocean should be at the center of our solutions to the rising threat of carbon pollution. You can learn more about Ocean Conservancy’s work on this issue in my blog, The Ocean in a High CO2 World:

It’s easy to take for granted the many ways that the ocean keeps us alive—it sustains much of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate that surrounds us. The complex ocean systems that produce these benefits—from currents and photosynthesis to food chains—are often chaotic and unpredictable at smaller scales, but at large scales they come together in a dynamic equilibrium to ensure that life can thrive.

One of the ocean’s most important life-giving functions is its absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. But we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, and in turn, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it. As a result, the ocean’s chemistry is changing—it has become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. There is no uncertainty or doubt about this; it is a simple and eminently replicable chemical process.

Several of the comments posted by our readers on my last blog focused on this growing concern. My answer to those comments is this: overall there is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean acidification is a very large part of the problem.

It is, simply put, the largest chemistry experiment ever attempted. It is happening now, and it has real impacts on people and local economies today. Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells in overly acidic waters, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods. These impacts are likely small compared to what could come if CO2 concentrations keep increasing under the current “business as usual” scenario. At a certain point, shell-building animals will not be able to produce calcium carbonate, with immeasurable effect on the entire food chain.

We’re working with the world’s top ocean acidification scientists to raise awareness about this growing threat and on solutions with the people on the front lines who are already being affected, from oyster growers in Washington state to mussel growers in Maine. In the weeks and months to come, we at Ocean Conservancy will dive deeper to take a very hard look at carbon pollution. For instance, what impact might the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, have on the ocean? It’s a vitally important question to answer.

At Ocean Conservancy, we understand that the ocean is not just a victim—it must be the part of the solution. The way we manage the ocean and the decisions we make about fishing, shipping, energy extraction and production, and more have huge implications for the future of carbon emissions and the ocean’s continued ability to sustain life.

As we explore this critical issue, we will do so from an “ocean-centric” point of view—we must determine what management decisions and policies we can inform and work on with fishermen, shippers, drillers, windmill builders and oceanographers that can transform ocean health.

We would love to hear from you on this.  There are solutions to be found, and it will take all of our ideas, passion and ingenuity to get there.

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What Does More Carbon Pollution Mean for the Ocean? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/16/what-does-more-carbon-pollution-mean-for-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/04/16/what-does-more-carbon-pollution-mean-for-the-ocean/#comments Tue, 16 Apr 2013 21:36:29 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5454 oil pipeline in Texas

The path to healthy ocean does not lie in drilling and pipeline-building for this dirty fuel, but in exploring alternatives. Photo: Ray Bodden via Flickr

“Where do we start?” It’s a question that I’m asked every day in relation to the opportunities we have to put the ocean at the center of the most pressing issues of our time.

One of our readers, who is very concerned about increasing CO2 emissions, asked that question in a comment on my last blog, where I detailed how rising carbon pollution is the greatest risk to the ocean and the resources—food, water, air, energy—it provides to sustain us.

The first step we need to take is to find out more about the species, people and places that are already feeling the effects of increased carbon pollution. The ocean is absorbing more and more of our carbon emissions, and its waters are becoming more acidic as a result. Ocean acidity has already increased 30 percent in the past few decades, and we are starting to see real impacts on species that depend on calcium for their shells.

For instance, the University of North Carolina’s Aquarium Research Center is finding that “higher levels of carbon in the ocean are causing oysters to grow slower, and their predators—such as blue crabs—to grow faster,” as reported last week by the Washington Post. Essentially, this means that crabs will decimate oysters in an effort to build up their shells, which, of course, can’t go on for very long.

Scientists aren’t the only ones who are witnessing these worrisome changes in the ocean’s chemistry. Ask oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest about ocean acidification, and they’ll say this has become an existential issue for them. Oystermen in Washington state are taking action to protect their waters so the oysters survive, given that increased carbon emissions are wreaking havoc on their businesses.

As this trend continues, additional species, some of them essential to the ocean food chain, will suffer. The risk this poses to those who depend on the ocean for food and for livelihoods is enormous.

The second step we need to take is to look at the big picture and think long term in the management of our energy resources. There are about 2 trillion tons of carbon-based fuels—oil, coal, gas—in the ground globally. Of that, we can only burn about half if we want to keep climate change and ocean acidification to a manageable level. Since we’ve already burned 500 billion tons since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have another 500 billion left to go.

Considering that, it’s no surprise that there’s a heated debate about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. Those sands hold the second largest petroleum reserve on earth; they contain a total of more than 1.63 trillion barrels of oil, of which about 170 billion barrels can be profitably refined at today’s energy prices.

These are stunning numbers made even more worrisome because this is dirty, carbon-rich fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that burning oil from the Alberta tar sands, compared to cleaner natural gas, would add an extra 600 million to 1.15 billion tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere over time.

Increased development of these Alberta oil deposits is dependent on the 830,000 barrels-per-day Keystone XL pipeline to be brought to market. If approved, the pipeline will run from Hardisty, Alberta, to Port Arthur, Texas, crossing six American states and multiple aquifers that provide drinking water to millions of people.

One-third of all carbon emissions are absorbed by the ocean, so adding a billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere means we’ll dramatically speed up the rate of acidification in the ocean, threatening lives and livelihoods. It’s a backward step when we should be doing exactly the opposite: lowering the trajectory for acidification, finding ways to reduce the need to dig up and burn fossil fuels, and making the oceans count.

The Obama administration is considering this proposal right now, and there are a few days left in the public comment period. If you want to let the Obama administration know about your concerns, a good place to start is by writing to the State Department. Let them know that you want them to include the ocean and the people who depend on it—1 in 6 jobs in the United States is marine-related—in the evaluation of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

It’s hard to imagine how a case can be made that these kinds of carbon numbers will have negligible effects. Let the Obama administration know that the path for a healthy future for us and for the planet does not lie in drilling and pipeline-building for this dirty fuel, but in exploring alternatives.

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The Ocean in a High CO2 World http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/25/the-ocean-in-a-high-co2-world/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/25/the-ocean-in-a-high-co2-world/#comments Mon, 25 Mar 2013 15:24:13 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5269 Taylor Shellfish worker shucks oysters

Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells as the ocean’s chemistry changes, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.
© 2013 Barbara Kinney/Ocean Conservancy All Rights Reserved

It’s easy to take for granted the many ways that the ocean keeps us alive—it sustains much of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate that surrounds us. The complex ocean systems that produce these benefits—from currents and photosynthesis to food chains—are often chaotic and unpredictable at smaller scales, but at large scales they come together in a dynamic equilibrium to ensure that life can thrive.

One of the ocean’s most important life-giving functions is its absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. But we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, and in turn, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it. As a result, the ocean’s chemistry is changing—it has become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. There is no uncertainty or doubt about this; it is a simple and eminently replicable chemical process.

Several of the comments posted by our readers on my last blog focused on this growing concern. My answer to those comments is this: overall there is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean acidification is a very large part of the problem.

It is, simply put, the largest chemistry experiment ever attempted. It is happening now, and it has real impacts on people and local economies today. Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells in overly acidic waters, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods. These impacts are likely small compared to what could come if CO2 concentrations keep increasing under the current “business as usual” scenario. At a certain point, shell-building animals will not be able to produce calcium carbonate, with immeasurable effect on the entire food chain.

We’re working with the world’s top ocean acidification scientists to raise awareness about this growing threat and on solutions with the people on the front lines who are already being affected, from oyster growers in Washington state to mussel growers in Maine. In the weeks and months to come, we at Ocean Conservancy will dive deeper to take a very hard look at carbon pollution. For instance, what impact might the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, have on the ocean? It’s a vitally important question to answer.

At Ocean Conservancy, we understand that the ocean is not just a victim—it must be the part of the solution. The way we manage the ocean and the decisions we make about fishing, shipping, energy extraction and production, and more have huge implications for the future of carbon emissions and the ocean’s continued ability to sustain life.

As we explore this critical issue, we will do so from an “ocean-centric” point of view—we must determine what management decisions and policies we can inform and work on with fishermen, shippers, drillers, windmill builders and oceanographers that can transform ocean health.

We would love to hear from you on this.  There are solutions to be found, and it will take all of our ideas, passion and ingenuity to get there.

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