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WITNESS: Investigating ocean acidification (Part 2)

In the second part of his WITNESS blog investigating the dangers of increasing ocean acidification, CONOR PURCELL learns that increase rates are already 10 times higher than at any time in the last 55 million years which, naturally, does not bode well for all ocean ecosystems

The continental shelf rolls out for some hundreds of kilometres west of Ireland’s Galway coast, before the Rockall Trough. Here the seafloor falls sharply off the shelf down to abyssal depths of over 3000 metres. Continentals shelves like this are host to a range of marine ecosystems, including cold water corals; a much less discussed variety compared to their warm water cousins.

According to Dr Tríona McGrath, a marine scientist at the National University of Ireland Galway, and funded by Ireland’s Marine Institute : “The Rockall Trough hosts an array of cold water coral ecosystems, interacting with a range of water masses along the Irish continental margin, Rockall Bank and Porcupine Bank. These deep water reef structures support a rich biodiversity and are particularly vulnerable in a more acidic ocean.”

Continue reading ‘WITNESS: Investigating ocean acidification (Part 2)’

WITNESS: Investigating ocean acidification (Part 1)

In the first of his two-part WITNESS blog CONOR PURCELL joins the Irish marine scientists aboard the Celtic Explorer to learn more about how they are testing for ocean acidification

As carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere continue to increase, more and more of the gas is drawn down into the world’s oceans, causing the pH of water to lower. This means our oceans are acidifying; and as the 21st century rolls on, these changes are expected to have consequences for marine ecosystems, as well as the services they provide, such as fisheries.

It is these ocean changes which a team at Ireland’s Marine Institute have been tasked with measuring working aboard the Celtic Explorer research vessel, some 400km from Galway, from where we departed last month.

Looking over the vessel’s edge we can see the CTD  – an acronym for Conductivity, Temperature, Depth – unit reflecting sunlight from below the sea’s surface. From here on deck, within the surrounding darker shades of sea the unit appears as a submerged circle of blue light. Then, as the scientists wait in anticipation, it is raised from the water and pulled aboard.

Continue reading ‘WITNESS: Investigating ocean acidification (Part 1)’

An important new step for understanding how ocean acidification will affect marine ecosystems

In this new Analysis article published by a team of Chilean and European colleagues, we provides a new approach to reconcile apparent contradicting results on the impact of ocean acidification on marine organisms.

Ocean acidification is the global warming evil twin. It is another consequence of human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. A quarter of the CO2 we have emitted to the atmosphere is captured by the ocean and significantly modifying its chemistry, including a decrease in the seawater pH. Since the industrial revolution, the oceanic pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1, which does not seem like much, but if we even consider that the pH scale is logarithmic, this apparently small change means that the ocean is becoming 30% more acidic. Further, recent studies suggest that acidification rate could accelerate from now to the end of the century, resulting in a potentially catastrophic impact on marine ecosystems. Understanding the impact of ocean acidification is now a priority and one of the targets of then UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

During the last years, the scientific community has been really active, and scientists have been conducting many ocean acidification experiments, where a variety of marine species are usually exposed to pH or CO2 levels expected for the near future. Through this experimental approach, it has been achieved an unequivocal consensus that if we keep emitting CO2 at the same rate, ocean acidification will significantly impact marine species, ecosystems and services that we are depending on. However, they struggle with apparently contradicting results.

Continue reading ‘An important new step for understanding how ocean acidification will affect marine ecosystems’

Ocean acidification – what it means and how to stop it

In the Sustainable Development Goals, the world has set forth a bold new vision for global development and committed to achieving it by the year 2030.   SDG 14 calls for us to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” While most of the targets in SDG 14 cover ocean issues and challenges that are well known to most, such as pollution and overfishing, one SDG 14 target, 14.3, may not be so familiar: 14.3 Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.

What is ocean acidification, and why is it so important to ocean sustainability and therefore to the SDG agenda?

Chemistry 101

Let’s start with some basic chemistry concepts. Water can be either acidic, basic, or neutral, depending on the relative levels of hydrogen ions it contains. The higher the hydrogen level, the more acidic the solution. This characteristic is quantified in its pH, which runs on a scale from 0-14.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification – what it means and how to stop it’

America’s coastal communities need a strong EPA leader, not Pruitt

Taylor Shellfish in Shelton,, WA (B. Kinney, Ocean Conservancy)

Taylor Shellfish in Shelton,, WA (B. Kinney, Ocean Conservancy)

It’s really quite simple. As the ocean absorbs more carbon emissions from the atmosphere, our ocean becomes more acidic. And the impacts are far-reaching. Just ask the shellfish growers and coastal businesses in the Pacific Northwest and across our country.

Yet Scott Pruitt, the Trump administration nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, avoids acknowledging the existence – much less the impacts – of ocean acidification even when asked directly by Senators as part of his confirmation hearings in Washington D.C.

American businesses already know and have experienced the harsh reality of ocean acidification. In 2007, oyster farms and hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest suffered massive losses when close to 75% of the oyster larvae perished. Without these larvae or “oyster seed,” shellfish farms up and down the west coast did not have oysters to grow and sell the following year. Millions of dollars were lost.

Continue reading ‘America’s coastal communities need a strong EPA leader, not Pruitt’

Scott Pruitt on ocean acidification: wrong again

Much has been written about how Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has tried to reject the science of climate change.  Pruitt’s answers to Senators’ questions about ocean acidification – another destructive effect of carbon pollution – follow the same pattern.

Ocean acidification poses a serious threat to sensitive marine species (shellfish such as oysters, clams, crabs, and coral) and the web of life underwater.  But it can also seriously harm people by changing the ways we eat, earn a living, and support our communities.  Ocean acidification has already cost the shellfish industry of the Pacific Northwest–a $110 million industry—significant amounts of money and has threatened thousands of jobs.

In his responses, Pruitt dodges and weaves in an effort to reject the science of ocean acidification while trying to appear reasonable.  But his answers follow the typical pattern of climate deniers.

Here are key examples from Pruitt’s written exchanges with Senators probing his record before voting on his confirmation.

(1) Question:  “Do you accept the science of ocean acidification that has directly connected the increase in human-caused carbon dioxide emissions with decreases in ocean pH?”

Pruitt’s response (a): “First, I would note that the oceans are alkaline and are projected to remain so.” 

Continue reading ‘Scott Pruitt on ocean acidification: wrong again’

Urgent: Trump can’t ignore the ocean

I’m a scientist, and I’ve dedicated my life to finding solutions that help people and coastal communities. It may sound complicated, but really, it’s simple—if you add carbon emissions to seawater, the ocean turns more acidic. I’ve visited with shellfish growers and coastal businesses across the country, and I’ve seen firsthand the impacts of acidification.

So you can imagine my surprise, when Scott Pruitt—the nominee for the head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)—was asked directly by Senators about ocean acidification, he wasn’t even willing to admit that ocean acidification is happening.

This week, the Senate is expected to vote on Mr. Pruitt for the head of the EPA. We want Senators to vote NO and OPPOSE Pruitt based on his unwillingness to admit that ocean acidification is really happening.

Continue reading ‘Urgent: Trump can’t ignore the ocean’


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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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