Ocean Currents » carbon pollution http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 31 Aug 2015 22:39:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Reducing Carbon Pollution is Good News for the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/03/reducing-carbon-pollution-is-good-news-for-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/03/reducing-carbon-pollution-is-good-news-for-the-ocean/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 20:46:32 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10602

© 2013 Rick Friedman/Ocean Conservancy All Rights Reserved

You might have heard the news today that the Obama Administration released its final version of a rule called the Clean Power Plan. Years in the making, this rule from the Environmental Protection Agency aims to reduce emissions from power plants – the biggest emitters of carbon pollution – by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. We hear a lot about how carbon pollution causes our planet’s atmosphere to warm, and as a result, droughts, wildfires, and extreme weather events, are becoming more frequent, dangerous and costly to Americans and many others around the world. But what does carbon pollution mean for the ocean?

Actually, it means a lot. The ocean absorbs about 25 percent of the carbon pollution we put into the atmosphere. As a result, the ocean is roughly 30 percent more acidic now than it was prior to the Industrial Revolution. Shellfish growers in the Pacific Northwest lost up to 80 percent of their oyster larvae (baby oysters) due to acidification in 2006-2008 and some growers nearly declared bankruptcy.

But ocean acidification isn’t the only threat our coastal communities face from carbon pollution. It is also causing the ocean to get warmer – sounds like a good thing, right? But a warmer ocean means some fish and crustaceans are shifting their range. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than anywhere on earth; lobstermen in Maine and New England are starting to see their catch move north. In Maine alone, the seafood industry is worth an estimated $1 billion dollars and critically important to coastal communities. This begs the question: What will happen to those fishermen and communities as the ocean continues to change?

Many coastal communities are doing what they can to address these threats at the local and state level. States like Washington, Oregon, California, Maine and Maryland are looking at reducing local coastal pollution that can end up in the ocean and make acidification worse. In Maine, local groups are working with fishermen to diversify their catch as the ocean changes. But more must be done to reduce emissions. For the sake of our coastal communities and the millions of Americans who depend on a healthy ocean, the Clean Power Plan is a very good thing.

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Bicoastal State Action on Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/11/bicoastal-state-action-on-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/11/bicoastal-state-action-on-ocean-acidification/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:24:07 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9486

By Guest Authors Mick Devin, Jay Manning and Eric Schwaab

Last week at the Restore America’s Estuaries Summit hundreds of people gathered near the nation’s capital to talk about coastal restoration and management practices. We were invited to lend a voice to a significant new coastal threat – - ocean acidification.  Acidification threats have been recognized by coastal communities and businesses as not just a concern for restoration practitioners, but to the fishing and aquaculture businesses that support the economies of many coastal communities. Ocean acidification threatens fish and wildlife around the world, but also jobs and livelihoods in coastal communities throughout the US.

The most well-known example of acidification impacting coastal businesses and communities happened in 2007 and 2008 with the shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest. Hatchery owners, working closely with scientists, found that acidification was killing billions of baby oysters. As a result, shellfish farms and hatcheries along the West Coast faced serious financial losses. These businesses have been able to take steps to respond to the continued threat of acidification, and bounce back.  But there are many more businesses and sectors around the US, and in our states in particular, that are at risk due to acidification.

Up to a third of all carbon pollution in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, causing a chemical change in seawater that turns it more acidic.  This makes it harder for shell-building animals to survive.

Based on community concerns, our states have taken recent action to better understand and respond to ocean acidification.  As chairs of the Maine, Washington and Maryland state panels on ocean acidification, we spoke alongside NOAA Ocean Acidification Program Director Libby Jewett about better monitoring, enhanced coordination, mitigation opportunities and other specific actions planned or underway.

Our three states contribute billions of dollars to the national economy through our coastal communities and fisheries, yet our iconic lobster, blue crab and shellfish fisheries may be vulnerable to acidification impacts.  We are taking steps now to respond and are committed to doing even more. Washington has already established research and policy centers to work on this issue, and Maine and Maryland are issuing reports for legislative actions in the coming months.

It was great to share experiences and discuss how to collaborate and tackle a problem that is inherently bigger than all of our states combined.  However, we are encouraged and hopeful that with each state that takes action, we will find ways to roll back acidification and its negative impacts.

About the Guest Authors:

Mick Devin is co-chair of the Maine Commission on Ocean Acidification, and was recently re-elected as a member of the Maine State House of Representatives, representing Maine’s 51st District.

Jay Manning is the former Chief of Staff to Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, and Co-chair of the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification.  He is currently an environmental lawyer and consultant based out of Olympia, Washington.

Eric Schwaab is the chair of the Maryland Ocean Acidification Task Force, and former US Department of Commerce acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management, and Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at NOAA.  He is currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland.

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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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