Ocean and coastal waters around the world are beginning to tell a disturbing story. The seas, like a sponge, are absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so much so that the chemical balance of our oceans and coastal waters is changing and a growing threat to marine ecosystems. Over the past 200 years, the world’s seas have absorbed more than 150 billion metric tons of carbon from human activities. Currently, that’s a worldwide average of 15 pounds per person a week, enough to fill a coal train long enough to encircle the equator 13 times every year.
We can’t see this massive amount of carbon dioxide that’s going into the ocean, but it dissolves in seawater as carbonic acid, changing the water’s chemistry at a rate faster than seen for millions of years. Known as ocean acidification, this process makes it difficult for shellfish, corals and other marine organisms to grow, reproduce and build their shells and skeletons.
About 10 years ago, ocean acidification nearly collapsed the annual $117 million West Coast shellfish industry, which supports more than 3,000 jobs. Ocean currents pushed acidified water into coastal areas, making it difficult for baby oysters to use their limited energy to build protective shells. In effect, the crop was nearly destroyed.
Human health, too, is a major concern. In the laboratory, many harmful algal species produce more toxins and bloom faster in acidified waters. A similar response in the wild could harm people eating contaminated shellfish and sicken, even kill, fish and marine mammals such as sea lions.
Increasing acidity is hitting our waters along with other stressors. The ocean is warming; in many places the oxygen critical to marine life is decreasing; pollution from plastics and other materials is pervasive; and in general we overexploit the resources of the ocean. Each stressor is a problem, but all of them affecting the oceans at one time is cause for great concern. For both the developing and developed world, the implications for food security, economies at all levels, and vital goods and services are immense.
This year, the first nationwide study showing the vulnerability of the $1 billion U.S. shellfish industry to ocean acidification revealed a considerable list of at-risk areas. In addition to the Pacific Northwest, these areas include Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and areas off Maine and Massachusetts. Already at risk are Alaska’s fisheries, which account for nearly 60 percent of the United States commercial fish catch and support more than 100,000 jobs.
Ocean acidification is weakening coral structures in the Caribbean and in cold-water coral reefs found in the deep waters off Scotland and Norway. In the past three decades, the number of living corals covering the Great Barrier Reef has been cut in half, reducing critical habitat for fish and the resilience of the entire reef system. Dramatic change is also apparent in the Arctic, where the frigid waters can hold so much carbon dioxide that nearby shelled creatures can dissolve in the corrosive conditions, affecting food sources for indigenous people, fish, birds and marine mammals. Clear pictures of the magnitude of changes in such remote ocean regions are sparse. To better understand these and other hotspots, more regions must be studied.
Read more here
This article refers to a workshop organized mainly by Todd Capson from our team, working with partners in NZ and with the Marine Conservation Institute:
Aquaculture experts from the United States and New Zealand are meeting in Nelson to focus on protecting the $350 million industry in New Zealand from harmful ocean acidification.
About 60 shellfish experts will share knowledge at the workshop on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ocean acidification is the progressive increase in the acidity of the ocean, which caused a dramatic decline in Pacific oyster larvae in the United States in 2007.
It is not a problem in New Zealand currently, but it is important ocean monitoring systems are in place to enable the government to track future changes in ocean chemistry, the Ministry for Primary Industries says.
“There are key lessons to be learned from our colleagues in the United States that will assist us in focusing research, planning and management practices to enable the industry to grow despite pH decline,” Cawthron Institute aquaculture scientist Dr Norman Ragg says.
The New Zealand aquaculture industry is worth $350m a year.
Week of November 27, 2013
PMEL successfully deployed the first carbon dioxide flux and ocean acidification mooring in the Northern Indian Ocean on November 23. The Bay of Bengal Ocean Acidification (BOBOA) mooring will help us understand the large intraseasonal, seasonal and interannual biogeochemical variations in the Bay of Bengal, and how the marine ecosystem in the Bay is changing over time.
This mooring is part of the Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA) made possible through a close partnership with NOAA and Bay of Bengal partners. Read more and see live data on the BOBOA Carbon website.
This past week my deputy Marie Damour traveled to Nelson for a workshop on ocean acidification which our Embassy co-sponsored with the New Zealand government, the NZ seafood industry and the Gordon & Betty Moore foundation. The workshop, titled “Future Proofing New Zealand’s Shellfish Aquaculture: Monitoring and Adaptation to Ocean Acidification,” was intended to respond to what Secretary of State John Kerry describes as the “economic, environmental, and policy concerns created by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and the resulting acidification of our oceans.”
The two-day conference brought together more than 60 shellfish experts to share their knowledge in order to help identify ways to protect New Zealand’s NZ$ 350 million (US$ 285 million) per year aquaculture industry from the effects of climate change. The agenda was organized around two topics identified as top priorities during the 2012 session of the N.Z.-U.S. Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation – (1) Climate Change Monitoring, Research, and Services in the Pacific, and (2) Marine and Ocean Research.
Just as climate change has evolved from a purely scientific discussion into a set of significant economic and security concerns, ocean acidification has quickly evolved from a theoretical exercise into a major economic threat. Just looking at the United States, for example, one of every six jobs is marine-related, and more than one-third of the Gross National Product originates in coastal areas.
A team of international scientists has launched an ambitious mission to understand how the warming and acidification of the world’s oceans will affect Europe’s shellfish.
Currently scientists do not fully understand how species such as oysters, mussels, scallops and clams produce their shells, or how a change in environment will affect their populations. To address this, the European Union is funding a €3.6 million programme called CACHE (Calcium in a Changing Environment).
Coordinated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge this multi-national programme, which aims to train a new generation of marine scientists, will look at every aspect of how the animals produce their shells and strive to identify populations which are resilient to climate change.
The shellfish industry is an important contributor to the European marine economy – dubbed the “Blue economy” – which is currently worth €500 billion every year and provides an estimated 5.4 million jobs.
These relatively small animals play an important role in the oceans because they are a crucial part of marine biodiversity and, as they make their shells out of calcium carbonate, they have a role in absorbing CO2. While the fishery industry built around them provides jobs in rural communities the animals themselves are also seen as an important and healthy food.
Shellfish have been highlighted as being particularly at risk under future climate change scenarios.
The risk comes because their shells are made of calcium carbonate – a substance which dissolves under acidic conditions. As the oceans become warmer and more acidic their shells will either thin, or the animals will have to expend more energy on producing thicker shells. This will affect their population sizes and the quality of the meat they produce, directly affecting the fisheries economy and damaging consumer choice.
First meeting of the Ocean Acidification international Reference User Group (OAiRUG), 2-4 December 2013, Oceanographic Museum, Monaco.
Nov. 25 2013
An oil rig pumps near the hills of California’s Wind Wolves Preserve.
A new study out on Monday says that the United States’ is emitting far more of the greenhouse gas methane than previously thought. The study, published by the National Academy of Sciences, estimates that in 2008 the US emitted 50 percent more methane gas into the atmosphere than was previously thought by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The new data indicates that methane could be a bigger challenge in combating global warming than scientists previously thought, according to the Associated Press. Here’s more from the AP:
Methane is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, the most abundant global warming gas, although it doesn’t stay in the air as long. Much of that extra methane, also called natural gas, seems to be coming from livestock, including manure, belches, and flatulence, as well as leaks from refining and drilling for oil and gas, the study says.
The new research, NBC News reports, “is based on atmospheric methane measurements taken from the top of telecommunications towers that stick more than 1,000 feet into the air as well as from airplanes.”
In early October, Washington Sea Grant released 20 Facts About Ocean Acidification–the product of a collaboration between WSG, NOAA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Plymouth Marine Labs and other international partners. Feedback on this initial document has helped us improve the precision of the facts, resulting in this November 2013 update:
Andrew Dickson gave a talk on Oct 5th, 2013 at a local TEDx event in San Diego: