Acid ocean

On Sunday more than a hundred Homer boats – fishing vessels, skiffs, kayaks – assembled in Mud Bay, on the inside of the Homer Spit, to spell out “SOS” and “acid ocean.” This was a combination of political demonstration and performance art; the assemblage was carefully choreographed by organizers, including the internationally known aerial artist John Quigley, and then photographed from above by a helicopter. The idea was to send a message to Alaska’s Congressional delegation and all senators-who should soon be taking up climate change legislation-that Alaska’s fisheries are at risk from ocean acidification, the “evil twin” of climate change.

Our friend said, “Too bad it’s not true,” and then went off on a rant about how climate change and ocean acidification were lies perpetuated by liars.

My biking companion said, “Phil, it’s not lies. It’s chemistry.”

Now, I’m assuming that Alaska Dispatch readers read reputable sources and do know, by this time, some basics about ocean acidification. There are plenty of excellent sources on-line, including the site of EPOCA, the European Project on Ocean Acidification, which is a consortium of more than 100 acidification researchers. See their blog for some basic EPOCA information about the subject, including a two-minute video and an article about why the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill is so important for our oceans, plus lots more links.

The very basic facts, however, are these: the oceans have absorbed about a third of the anthropogenic carbon that’s been added to the atmosphere. This has changed the pH so that it’s now about 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution began. (Sea water is naturally alkaline, so it still is, but less so, becoming more acidic.) This chemistry change makes it harder for creatures with shells (including species of zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain) to build shells. In Alaska, the very things that make our waters so productive for fisheries-cold water, broad and shallow continental shelves, and biological richness-make them especially vulnerable to OA. (Get used to the abbreviation-you’ll be seeing it a lot in future years.) Alaskan researchers have been making some disturbing findings.

Nancy Lord, AlaskaDispatch, 7 September 2009. Full article.

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