Climate Photo of the Week
Shellfish growers in the Northwest adapt to a changing ocean, treat seawater to maintain chemistry for tiny oyster larvae.
The record high amounts of carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere by humans is causing more than global warming and changes across the land. The ocean absorbs CO2 in a natural part of the carbon cycle, but since the industrial revolution and human fossil fuel burning began, a great deal more has been absorbed than in centuries past. NOAA says that when carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater, chemical reactions occur that reduce seawater pH, carbonate ion concentration, and saturation states of biologically important calcium carbonate minerals. These chemical reactions are termed "ocean acidification." Calcium carbonate minerals are the building blocks for the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms. Historically, the average pH of seawater around the globe is 8.2. Since the industrial age began, the average pH of surface oceans has decreased to 8.1, a 30% increase in acidity. This change is beginning to affect all ocean creatures which build shells, including reef-building corals which are already under stress from ocean warming. Especially affected are plankton, the tiny plants and animals at the base of the ocean food chain, including the larvae of shellfish.
In the Pacific Northwest, the oyster industry, with an $84 million yearly value and 3,000 employees, is already seeing and reacting to the effects of unhealthy ocean water. Research published recently by Dr. George Waldbusser and colleagues at Oregon State University indicates why the young oysters are so vulnerable to ocean water that has higher pCO2 (determined by dissolved CO2 and carbonic acid). In the first few days of life, an oyster begins to build a shell using energy only from the yolk of its egg and it appears that shell building takes more energy when acidity of the water is higher, and the oyster is not able to get a shell built in time. Waldbusser told news media: "They must build their first shell quickly on a limited amount of energy--and along with the shell comes the organ to capture external food." Thus acidified water can keep oysters from developing from the very first days of its life. At Taylor Shellfish hatchery on Hood Canal in Washington, ocean water being pumped in is now continuously monitored for concentration of CO2, alkalinity, pH, temperature and carbonate chemistry levels. The hatchery strives to maintain a pH of 8.0 and optimum carbonate chemistry for raising oysters from the egg stage to young oysters ready to plant in beds. To do so, for the first time this year, the hatchery is treating the more acidic seawater with sodium carbonate as it enters the hatchery.
Read more and see the photos from Taylor Shellfish hatchery.
Just the facts: Rapid climate change is everywhere. We are the cause. We have the power to change.
In World View of Global Warming I have witnessed and photographed climate science, the effects of rapid global warming and the world's out-of-control greenhouse gas emissions. I have seen that the effects of these emissions, especially from coal use, are damaging people, landscapes and the entire ocean. When I began in 1999 I was one of the few providing this direct view – now there are many more witnesses. Climate change is news and is now.
What is more important is that I see the keys to a far better, cleaner, healthier life all around us. The reality is that energy from wind, sun, water, and geothermal are available worldwide. Efficient ways to employ that power are very well known. Together they far exceed the energy the world needs and uses. We must move away from coal, oil and gas as our primary energy sources.
For the many citizens who are fighting the polluted political system, inertia of agencies, avarice of some corporations and indifference of neighbors – and who also are encouraging the growing number of leaders of our new energy age – I offer a few basic facts to keep uppermost.
• One: Rapid climate change is easy to understand. Knowledge is power.
It's happening now. It's happening everywhere. It threatens all we have and the Earth's processes which make life possible. Human energy use, dependence on fossil fuels and land abuse are causing it. We have abundant power to change. Time is running short to avoid a world many degrees hotter.
In short: Rapid climate change is everywhere. We’re causing it. We have the power to change. Now.
• Two: Coal is the greatest single contributor to climate change emissions. Stopping the use of coal is the real keystone to building a cleaner, cooler world.
All efforts must turn toward slowing and quickly stopping the use of coal. It is the fuel for 42 percent of world electricity and many industries, but at an unacceptable cost of unhealthy pollution, land destruction and more than 40 percent of CO2 emissions. We must find ways to price it out of business. Invent it out of business. Legislate it, tax it, force it, shame it out of business. Everywhere. Alternatives abound.
• Three: There is no "environmentally safe" way to get oil, gas and coal.
If we get it out of the ground without damaging the land, water or sea -- and stop me if you've heard this, but we can not do that --- we then will spill it during transport, pollute and poison air and water and send greenhouse gasses irrevocably high when we burn it. And not incidentally all the while paying dearly for the waste, slop, damaged groundwater, injury and death, political and military mayhem that our fossil fuel folly brings on. Every reduction in use counts, because every molecule of CO2 we launch into the atmosphere will be there for generations. The International Energy Agency says, "The most important contribution to reaching energy security and climate goals comes from the energy that we do not consume." Leave it in the ground.
• Four: We are on the verge of a new post-industrial revolution. Wind, water, waves, solar, geothermal and more. The time of clean, perpetual, widespread, ethical and healthy energy is now.
We must get on with it and turn all our resources to researching, demonstrating and installing efficient and non-carbon power generation for all the people of the world. Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi’s research shows “Supplies of wind and solar energy on accessible land dwarf the energy consumed by people around the globe.” Stop spending money on new drilling and mining and the impossible dream of "clean" fossil fuel power generation. Instead put all that money and engineering talent into energy conservation, solar, wind, waterpower, geothermal, hydrogen fuel cells and new inventions. Put a price on fossil fuel at the mine and well so that its horrible pollution and health costs are paid for and its use will shrink. Retrain those now in fossil industries to be leaders in the future of fuel.
I say these things knowing full well the transition I and others are calling for in impatient words is an enormous task. I also recognize and applaud all the actions that have been taken to reduce emissions. They show the way but they are barely a beginning. The changes that we so obviously need and are so clearly possible are being held back at every turn by political cowardice, the greed of some companies, international obstructionism and public indifference.
Having the facts is one step in overcoming the blockades and stemming the tide of rapid climate change. The work is for our generation, it can not wait. Know that your actions are meaningful in this great challenge. I am determined that the human spirit and intellectual power will win out over ignorance, greed and poverty.
References and connections here.
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