Protecting seas

Richard Feely of The Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle has worked over the past half-decade to study rising levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans. Increasing levels contribute to the extinction of some species which play prominent daily roles in the lives of species.

Richard Feely received the Heinz Award in September for research on the effects of greenhouse gases.
Feely works at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash. His research shows that the levels of carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans have increased over the past five years. This rise in CO2 may lead to the disappearance of many species that humans rely on daily.

“My job here at PMEL is to determine how much carbon dioxide being emitted from fossil fuels is being taken up by the oceans,” Feely said. “I find out where it goes, and how it affects marine ecosystems.”

The product of human fossil fuel emissions totals around 70 million metric tons of CO2, 22 million of which is released into the atmosphere every day. Twenty-five percent of this is absorbed into the oceans.

“The biological consequences of the uptake of that carbon are really quite severe,” Feely said. “We could have very significant impacts on marine ecosystems if we continue to emit gases from the burning of fossil fuels.”
The significant impact Feely suggests is different than one would expect. “My research has shown that many organisms that produce calcium carbonate shells would have a reduced ability to produce their shell or skeleton,” Feely said.

Organisms that use calcium, such as corals and crustaceans have seen a 30 percent reduction in growth according to Feely’s research.

“Corals are important because they provide an environment of tremendous biodiversity,” Feely said. “Mankind depends on this diversity as a food source.”

That’s not all, Feely said. Oysters, snails and lobsters are all having increased difficulty maturing from larval stages. American fisheries might be seeing these important protein sources less often as marine life struggles to handle increased ocean acidity. Feely said marine animals will have a more difficult time transmitting sound and navigating due to the ocean’s changing consistency.

“We depend on many of these species for our food and other resources,” Feely said. “Coral reefs have protected many islands from the ravages of hurricanes. The service they provide to mankind is critical.”
The solution to the greenhouse gas problem isn’t simple, Feely said.

“Right now, mankind depends on fossil fuels for about 80 percent of their energy resources,” he said. “We have to work toward an approach of conservation, to reduce energy dependence of fossil fuels and develop other alternative sources of energy.”

The Heinz Award was initiated by the Heinz family in honor of Sen. John Heinz to recognize lifelong achievement in environmental science, human condition, public policy and technology. Scientists are nominated annually. The award will be presented to Feely on Nov. 15 at a ceremony in Washington D.C.

Edward Miles, a professor of marine studies and public affairs at the University of Washington, nominated Feely for the award.

“He deserves the award for the immensely important work he and his team have done in identifying what has come to be known as the ‘evil twin’ of the global warming problem,” Miles said. “These continuing discoveries represent a major contribution to society.”

Feely said he was surprised to be nominated.

“I was quite humbled,” said Feely about his nomination. “To think that you’re grouped with such outstanding scientists makes you feel very appreciative of the recognition of your work.”
Feely received both his master’s and doctoral degrees from Texas A&M, and said he maintains a lot of great friendships with A&M faculty and students.

“My years at Texas A&M were some of the most exciting and fruitful years of my career,” Feely said. “It really was a great place to get a start in oceanography. I was glad I got the chance to go to Texas A&M.”

Wilford Gardner, a friend of Feely and a professor in the A&M oceanography department, said candidates for the Heinz Award must possess vision, optimism, creativity and hard work. “That described Dr. Feely perfectly,” Gardner said. “He had been diligently studying carbon dioxide in the ocean and atmosphere for many years, and led the charge to make the effects of CO2 known to the public … His accomplishments are significant and all Aggies can be proud of his work.”

Alex Randolph, The Battalion online, 3rd November 2010. Article.

  • Reset


OA-ICC Highlights

%d bloggers like this: