Sea Champion Picked for Ocean, Air Agency

Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist with a passion for improving public understanding of science, has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to run NOAA, the government agency responsible for understanding and conserving two vital components of the planet — the oceans and atmosphere.

Below, you can read Dr. Lubchenco’s response to a question on marine conservation posed by Andrew C. Revkin earlier in the year.

Question: Are there elements of human impacts that are surprising, particularly disturbing?

Answer: The two big surprises to surface recently are acidification and perturbation of coastal upwelling ecosystems. (Most of the other threats to ocean ecosystems have been well characterized by scientists and policy studies such as the Pew Oceans Commission and U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. Of course, identifying a problem is not synonymous with rectifying it.) The acidification of oceans may well be the most insidious and pervasive threat to life in the oceans everywhere, simply because so many different plants and animals that play key roles in ecosystems will likely be affected – coccolithophores, pteropods, corals, mollusks (clams, mussels, oysters, snails), echinoderms (urchins, seastars), arthropods (lobsters, crabs, shrimp), etc., etc. Recent studies suggest that some organisms probably can’t cope with the expected increases in acidity; others suggest they might be able to handle the increasing acidity, but not also deal with rising temperatures. Gretchen Hofmann who studies sea urchin larvae calls this the ‘double jeopardy’ problem, where larvae can still make their skeletal rods, but doing so comes at the cost of being able to cope with thermal stress.

The full set of questions and answers are on dot earth.

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