Can climate change hurt seafood? Can burning fields alter monsoons? Scripps students bring research to climate talks

They’re studying the streams of water vapor that dump rain and snow on California, how burning fields alter monsoon patterns in Africa, and what changing ocean chemistry means for shellfish.

A group of 13 graduate students from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, and several from the university’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, will attend the 23rd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, next month, bringing research on topics ranging from coral reef ecology to paleoclimatology.

They also aim to represent U.S. efforts to combat climate change on the global stage in the wake of President Trump’s declaration that he plans to exit the Paris climate accord.

“We want to share the story of how the U.S. is still taking action to mitigate climate change and reduce our carbon emissions, despite what the federal government will do,” said Kaitlyn Lowderm, a fourth-year graduate student at Scripps, who also attended COP21 two years ago.

For her, that means looking at how carbon emissions impact marine diversity and the food we put on our tables.

“I study how driving your car affects your lobster dinner,” said Lowderm, 25.

As a child, she said, she grew up in Las Vegas and Utah, but vacationed in San Diego, where she played at the beach and became fascinated by shrimp, crabs and lobsters, and their unique physiology.

“I’ve had a love of crustaceans, especially their exoskeleton,” she said. “It’s such a diverse piece of armor for the animal.”

She studied marine biology and creative writing at Western Washington University, and is now pursuing her doctorate in marine biology at Scripps. She’s looking at spiny lobsters, a globally popular seafood species, and how their predator defenses are affected by ocean acidification. Known as the “evil twin” of global warming, ocean acidification occurs when seawater absorbs excess carbon from the atmosphere.

The increasingly acidic ocean water impairs oyster shells. Can it also affect crustaceans’ exoskeletons, she asks? Ocean acidification dulls the sense of smell for some fish species, and could do the same to lobsters, she said, hindering their ability to smell predators, or to find their own prey. Over time, that could affect an important food source, bringing the issue of climate change to the kitchen table.

“As our oceans warm up, as we have lower Ph and lose oxygen, it can make it more tangible if you talk about fisheries,” she said.

Deborah Sullivan Brennan, The San Diego Union Tribune, 5 October 2017. Full article.

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