Climate change and oceans: government action needed say scientists (text & audio)

A panel of ocean scientists from the west coast of Canada and the United States are urging governments to monitor acidity and oxygen levels in the ocean because ecosystems are suffering.

The ultimate goal is for governments is to drastically decrease the use of fossil fuels because climate change is harming the oceans’ ecosystems, say researchers. But first, some scientists say they need more resources to take a closer look at the effect of climate change on the ocean.

“The governments of B.C., Washington, Oregon and California, need to come together and put together a joint monitoring program supported by those state or provincial administrations that will help us understand better what is going on in the sea,” said Tom Pedersen, professor of oceanography at the University of Victoria.

He is one of the authors of a report released this month called: The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel: Major Findings, Recommendations, and Actions.

Pedersen spoke to Robyn Burns, host of CBC Radio’s All Points West, about two problems in the ocean: acidification and oxygen depletion.

Too acidic

“We call ocean acidification the evil twin of global warming,” said Pedersen.

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are acidifying the ocean because carbon dioxide dissolves into seawater and interferes with the formation of carbonate, according to Pedersen.

Animals such as clams, oysters and crabs use carbonate to build their shells.

“By adding [carbon dioxide] to the atmosphere, we’re actually taking away the building blocks that these organism use to construct their homes,” he said.

Ocean ‘dead zones’

Scientists have recorded about 400 oxygen-depleted ocean “dead zones” worldwide so far, some of which have appeared off the coast of Oregon, says Pedersen.

It can be deadly for animals who cannot move away from the areas quickly enough.

“That water is oxygen-depleted … and animals that can’t move away from that water, like crabs — [they] suffocate.”

Pedersen says humans are indirectly responsible by adding nutrients into coastal waters, which cause a spike in phytoplankton numbers. When those organisms die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean, decomposing and consuming oxygen while doing so.

Those oxygen-depleted waters are then sometimes pushed back up, catching small or slower moving animals by surprise, he said.

Wanyee Li, CBC Radio, 8 April 2016. Text & audio.

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