KUOW: Program Archive

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell yesterday convened a group of scientists in Seattle to hear testimony on the health of the oceans. The focus was on how rising acidity of ocean water could be posing a threat to marine life. But the science was not so clear cut. KUOW’s Deborah Wang reports.
THERE IS ONE THING THAT SCIENTISTS ARE SURE ABOUT. CARBON DIOXIDE THAT PEOPLE PUMP INTO THE ATMOSPHERE IS ENDING UP IN THE OCEANS. SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, THEY BELIEVE, THE OCEANS HAVE ABSORBED ABOUT HALF OF THE WORLD’S TOTAL CARBON EMISSIONS. THAT HAS MADE THE OCEANS MORE ACIDIC, BECAUSE IN SALT WATER, CARBON TURNS INTO CARBONIC ACID.

THAT IS NOT GOOD NEWS FOR CORAL, MOLLUSKS, OR TINY HARD SHELLED CREATURES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FOOD CHAIN. THE PRESENCE OF HIGH LEVELS OF ACID ROBS THEM OF THE CALCIUM THEY NEED TO MAKE HARD SHELLS.

CONGRESSMAN JAY INSLEE CALLS THE INCREASING ACIDITY OF THE OCEANS A SILENT ASSASIN.

INSLEE: “Nothing is more potentially dangerous to humanity than ocean acidification I believe as the first big problem that we are going to face and that is because we receive a significant part of our protein from the ocean and that is greatly, greatly threatened.”

BUT THE SCIENTISTS WHO TESTIFIED AT TUESDAY’S HEARING WERE UNIVERSALLY RELUCTANT TO SAY WHAT EFFECT ACIDIFICATION MIGHT BE HAVING ON MARINE LIFE. THEY HAVE THEIR SUSPICIONS, BUT THEY SIMPLY HAVE NOT BEEN STUDYING THE PROCESS LONG ENOUGH TO KNOW.

FOR EXAMPLE, TERAPODS ARE TINY SNAIL LIKE CREATURES THAT ARE A FAVORITE FOOD OF CHUM SALMON. IN THE LABORATORY, HIGHER ACIDITY KILLS THEM OFF, BUT IT IS NOT CLEAR WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THEIR POPULATIONS IN THE WILD.

CHRISTOPHER SABINE IS AN OCEANOGRAPHER WITH THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION.

SABINE: “We’ve been studying individual species, we know that this particular species, the terapod, is impacted, we know that the coccalyx, when they are grown by themselves are impacted, but when you put all of them together we don’t really know how that is going to respond.”

THE SCIENTISTS ARE CALLING FOR A MAJOR RESEARCH EFFORT TO BETTER UNDERSTAND WHAT IS HAPPENING. BUT THEY ALSO SAY MUCH MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE TO PROTECT THE ECOSYSTEM WHILE THAT STUDY IS UNDERWAY.

JEFF KOENINGS IS THE DIRECTOR OF DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE FOR THE STATE.

KOENINGS: “But yet we got to do the precautionary step we know things are going on we got to take action because if we wait for all the analysis to be in in 10 years, all the models validated, the cows will be out of the barn they’ll be long gone.”

SENATOR MARIA CANTWELL CHAIRED TUESDAY’S HEARINGS. SHE IS PUSHING FOR LEGISLATION THAT WOULD FUND FURTHER STUDY OF OCEAN ACIDIFICATION. THAT BILL HAS YET TO MAKE IT TO THE SENATE FLOOR.

Deborah Wang, KUOW transcript, 28 May 2008. Article.


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