Conference focuses on effects of climate change

On June 17 at the Vancouver Hilton in Vancouver, the 2016 Science to Policy Summit sponsored by the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, scientists and policy makers talked about climate change and how it could affect the lower Columbia River.

“It’s not that it’s changing,” Jan Newton, the Senior Principal Oceanographer for the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory said. “Things are always going to change. It’s that the rate of change is rapid and to some extent, unprecedented. The rate of acidification is nearly 10 times faster than any period over the last 50 million years.” (…)

Scientists have documented an increase of CO2 not only in the atmosphere, but in the ocean, according to Newton. Increased CO2 reduces the pH of the ocean, leading to acidification.

Newton is quick to point out that there is a difference between acidic and acidified.

Ocean acidification is a global scale event, she said, and it’s due to fossil fuel burning and cutting down photosynthesizers which cut CO2.

“Are we increasing that rate at a rate where some of the species that we care about can’t keep up?” she asked. “That’s the scary bit.”

Oysters and other organisms like terrapods, a food source for salmon, rely on certain levels of pH to make their shells. They will be affected.

“When you don’t have as much carbonate dissolved in the sea water,” Newton said, “they have to expend more energy to get it. It’s harder and they are littler with an increase in the chances of deformities.”

Fewer shellfish will in turn affect water quality.

Higher CO2 will make harmful algal blooms more toxic. They’ll grow faster.

Not every species will be affected. Jellyfish and worms will still thrive. According to Newton, some species may be able to adapt.

“The Columbia River Estuary is fed by the low pH, low aragonite saturation in state waters of the Columbia River,” Newton said, “but it is also influenced by the upwelled oceanic water that has low pH, low aragonite and low oxygen. Some people would call this a double whammy.” (…)

“People talk a lot about the uncertainties around climate change,” Binder said. “I would gladly take the uncertainties of climate change over the uncertainties of human responses to climate change. It’s easier to predict the climate system than it is to predict the human system.”

Diana Zimmerman, The Wahkiakum County Eagle, 11 August 2016. Article.

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