Since 2007, the Global Ocean Health program, a joint program of NFCC and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, has been a pioneer in informing and preparing the seafood industry, coastal communities, and policy makers to respond effectively to ocean acidification.
The Global Ocean Health program has hosted workshops for fishermen, seafood companies, growers, conservation and community leaders; published articles in the fisheries trade press; supported production of educational videos; and helped to assemble an informed and capable group of stakeholders and scientists to respond to the causes and consequences of this major change in ocean chemistry (see SFP’s program site here).
The Arctic seas are being made rapidly more acidic by carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new report.
Scientists from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) monitored widespread changes in ocean chemistry in the region.
They say even if CO2 emissions stopped now, it would take tens of thousands of years for Arctic Ocean chemistry to revert to pre-industrial levels.
Many creatures, including commercially valuable fish, could be affected.
They forecast major changes in the marine ecosystem, but say there is huge uncertainty over what those changes will be.
It is well known that CO2 warms the planet, but less well-known that it also makes the alkaline seas more acidic when it is absorbed from the air.
Absorption is particularly fast in cold water so the Arctic is especially susceptible, and the recent decreases in summer sea ice have exposed more sea surface to atmospheric CO2.
The Arctic’s vulnerability is exacerbated by increasing flows of freshwater from rivers and melting land ice, as freshwater is less effective at chemically neutralising the acidifying effects of CO2.
The researchers say the Nordic Seas are acidifying over a wide range of depths – most quickly in surface waters and more slowly in deep waters.
The report’s chairman, Richard Bellerby from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, told BBC News that they had mapped a mosaic of different levels of pH across the region, with the scale of change largely determined by the local intake of freshwater.
“Large rivers flow into the Arctic, which has an enormous catchment for its size,” he said.
“There’s slow mixing so in effect we get a sort of freshwater lens on the top of the sea in some places, and freshwater lowers the concentration of ions that buffers pH change. The sea ice has been a lid on the Arctic, so the loss of ice is allowing fast uptake of CO2.”
HOMER, Alaska — Kris Holderied, who directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Kasitsna Bay Laboratory, says the ocean’s increasing acidity is “the reason fishermen stop me in the grocery store.”
“They say, ‘You’re with the NOAA lab, what are you doing on ocean acidification?’ ” Holderied said. “This is a coastal town that depends on this ocean, and this bay.”
This town in southwestern Alaska dubs itself the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World. But worries about the changing chemical balance of the ocean and its impact on the fish has made an arcane scientific buzzword common parlance here, along with the phrase “corrosive waters.”
In the past five years, the fact that human-generated carbon emissions are making the ocean more acidic has become an urgent cause of concern to the fishing industry and scientists.
The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide we put in the air through fossil fuel burning, and this triggers a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen, thereby lowering the water’s pH.
The sea today is 30 percent more acidic than pre-industrial levels, which is creating corrosive water that is washing over America’s coasts. At the current rate of global worldwide carbon emissions, the ocean’s acidity could double by 2100.
Shipping pollution from sulfur oxides (SOx) and nitrous oxides (NOx) along busy trade routes can equal carbon dioxide-driven ocean acidification, a study says.
Sulfur in marine fuel oil and atmospheric nitrogen create SOx and NOx in the exhaust gases from ships. According to the research paper that will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letter, these gases — like rising CO2 levels — also increase acidity in the ocean, which can harm coral, squid, mussels and other sea life.
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology, the University of Delaware and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies jointly conducted the year-long effort, which is the first global study on the effects of increasing shipping traffic in the summer, UDaily reports.
While it found that shipping emissions hurt coastal areas the most, it also concluded that the International Maritime Organization’s emissions rules for North America and Europe will drastically reduce the sulfur content in these areas from 1 percent to 0.1 percent by 2015, researcher James J. Corbett, a University of Delaware professor, tells UDaily. In other parts of the world, sulfur content will drop from 2.7 percent to 0.5 percent.
Researchers say this shows that areas without such emission controls need regulations to combat ocean acidification. Improving marine fuel quality and the technology to scrub stack gases and remove pollutants will help preserve the health of oceans and coastal ecosystems, the study says.
Teijin Engineering this week announced it has developed a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) denitration device for midsized ship engines that the company says will ensure compliance with the International Maritime Organization’s NOx emissions regulation, which goes into effect in 2016. The company says ship tests have demonstrated that the device can reduce NOx emissions by 80 percent.
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By PHUONG LE, Associated Press
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
SEATTLE (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Tuesday a bill he championed that would study the best ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the measure, an independent consultant would review efforts to cut carbon emissions in Washington state and elsewhere. A newly created work group of legislators and other leaders would use that evaluation to recommend actions to reduce pollution associated with climate change.
The group will be expected to prioritize strategies that are the most effective and provide the greatest environmental benefit for the money spent.
Supporters say the measure would help the state reach its target of reducing greenhouse gases. A 2008 state law called for Washington to return to 1990 emissions levels by 2020, and for reductions beyond that.
The Democratic governor, who signed the bill at The Bullitt Center in Seattle, has championed the issue of climate change as a key concern. He appeared before committees in the House and Senate to urge the bill’s passage, saying that climate change threatens industries in the state and Washington is poised to take a lead in fighting global warming.
Environmental groups lauded the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.
“This law is an important first step toward reducing climate pollution in Washington,” said Joan Crooks, Executive Director of Washington Environmental Council and co-chair of the Environmental Priorities Coalition.
Language in the original bill warned that Washington state is particularly vulnerable to a warming climate, and noted that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities posed a threat to public health and the environment.
But such language was removed in the Republican-controlled state Senate. House Democrats elected not to reintroduce that language, instead sending the bill to the governor for his signature.
Todd Myers, environmental director for the Washington Policy Center, said the measure marks an important change from past policies that he called “little more than symbolic gestures.”
“With this legislation, Washington will begin prioritizing climate efforts based on environmental effectiveness, contributing to a cleaner world and making sure taxpayers get the environmental benefits they pay for,” Myers said in a statement.
Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
March 28, 2013
Special report: USA TODAY will explore how climate change is affecting Americans in a series of stories this year.
OYSTER BAY, Wash. — The tide rolls out on a chilly March evening, and the oystermen roll in, steel rakes in hand, hip boots crunching on the gravel beneath a starry, velvet sky.
As they prepare to harvest some of the sweetest shellfish on the planet, a danger lurks beyond the shore that will eventually threaten clams, mussels, everything with a shell or that eats something with a shell. The entire food chain could be affected. That means fish, fishermen and, perhaps, you.
(Photo: Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures for USA TODAY)
“Ocean acidification,” the shifting of the ocean’s water toward the acidic side of its chemical balance, has been driven by climate change and has brought increasingly corrosive seawater to the surface along the West Coast and the inlets of Puget Sound, a center of the $111 million shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest.
USA TODAY traveled to the tendrils of Oyster Bay as the second stop in a year-long series to explore places where climate change is already affecting lives.
The acidification taking place here guarantees the same for the rest of the world’s oceans in the years ahead. This isn’t the kind of acid that burns holes in chemist’s shirt sleeves; ocean water is actually slightly alkaline. But since the start of the industrial revolution, the world’s oceans have grown nearly 30% more acidic, according to a 2009 Scientific Committee on Oceanic Resources report. Why? Climate change, where heat-trapping carbon dioxide emitted into the air by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels ends up as excess carbonic acid absorbed into the ocean.
That shift hurts creatures like oysters that build shells or fish that eat those creatures or folks like shellfish farmer Bill Dewey, who makes his living off the ocean.
“As fresh as they get, you could eat one now,” says Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Wash., shucking an oyster open, mud running from its shell to reveal the opulent meat within, silver and white in the starlight. The black lip curling around the sweet-tasting shellfish reveals it to be a Pacific oyster, farmed worldwide.
(Photo: USA TODAY)
Shellfish affected by corrosive ocean water
Mar 28, 2013
Bill Dewey of Shelton, Wash., and his colleagues have to watch water quality levels at their oyster hatchery to keep plumes of acidic water from affecting their harvest. / Scott Eklund/USA Today
Written by Dan Vergan, USA Today
FOSSIL FUELS MEAN ACIDIC OCEANS
Since the start of the industrial revolution, the world’s oceans have grown nearly 30 percent more acidic, according to a 2009 Scientific Committee on Oceanic Resources report. Why? Climate change, where heat-trapping carbon dioxide emitted into the air by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels ends up as excess carbonic acid absorbed into the ocean.
OYSTER BAY, WASH. — The tide rolls out on a chilly March evening, and the oystermen roll in, steel rakes in hand, hip boots crunching on the gravel.
As they prepare to harvest shellfish, a danger lurks beyond the shore that will threaten clams, mussels, everything with a shell or that eats something with a shell. The entire food chain could be affected.
“Ocean acidification,” the shifting of the ocean’s water toward the acidic side of its chemical balance, has been driven by climate change and has brought corrosive seawater to the surface along the West Coast and the inlets of Puget Sound, the center of the $111 million shellfish industry.
The acidification taking place here guarantees the same for the rest of the world’s oceans in the years ahead. This isn’t the kind of acid that burns holes in chemist’s shirt sleeves. But since the start of the industrial revolution, the world’s oceans have grown nearly 30 percent more acidic, according to a 2009 Scientific Committee on Oceanic Resources report. Why? Climate change, where heat-trapping carbon dioxide emitted into the air by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels ends up as excess carbonic acid absorbed into the ocean.
“As fresh as they get, you could eat one now,” said Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish in Shelton, Wash., shucking an oyster open, mud running from its shell to reveal the meat within.
The acid process
Because of ocean chemistry, water three times more acidic resides at greater ocean depths. When conditions are right, strong winds blowing over ocean water along steep coasts generate “upwelling” of these deep waters. The results bring this more corrosive seawater to places such as Puget Sound, a foreshadowing of how the oceans will look in a few decades.
“We are able to see the effects of ocean acidification,” said oceanographer Richard Feely of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He first charted upwelling of deeper, corrosive ocean water on the surface of the Pacific Ocean along the West Coast on a 2007 expedition.
Published: March 27, 2013
By GINNY BROADHURST AND BILL DEWEY — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Chemistry is not always easy to learn or communicate about, but it is at the very root of the problem our oceans face today. The chemistry of the world’s oceans and inland marine waters, such as Puget Sound, is changing significantly and with unprecedented speed. The most serious of these radical changes is ocean acidification. We must pay attention to this problem and act to reduce the threat it poses.
The ocean is 30 percent more acidic than it was before the industrial revolution began 250 years ago. If current trends continue, the increase may reach 100 percent by mid-century. The primary cause is carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels – coal, gas, and oil. The oceans absorb roughly 30 percent of those emissions from the atmosphere. When carbon dioxide mixes with seawater, it forms carbonic acid, and the chemical building blocks needed for the shells or skeletons of species such as mollusks, crustaceans and corals (called calcifiers) are reduced, making it difficult for these creatures to develop.
For years, scientists thought that the carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans was a benefit to all because it reduced the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, lessening the effects of global warming. Only within the last decade have the true costs of this “benefit” been recognized and documented.
While this is clearly a global issue, the effects of acidification are being felt first here in Washington because of the way the deep corrosive waters of the Pacific Ocean upwell and surface off our coast. Between 2005 and 2009, up to 80 percent of the oyster larvae in some Pacific Northwest hatcheries were killed by these corrosive waters. The oyster seed industry was on the verge of collapse.
Since the beginning of the industrial era, humans have pumped increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This has led not only to a warmer climate but also to significant changes in the chemistry of the oceans, which have long acted as a sink for carbon emissions but are being asked to absorb more than they can handle. The result is ocean acidification: increasingly corrosive seawater that has already ruined many coral reefs and over time could threaten the entire marine food chain.
The State of Washington is now trying to tackle the problem in new and inventive ways. It has good reason to worry. Its economically important aquaculture industry specializes in shellfish, especially oysters. Shellfish are highly vulnerable to increased acidity, which kills them by preventing them from creating or maintaining their shells. Washington’s coastal waters are also polluted by urban and farm runoff, as well as an unusual regional threat: wind patterns that cause the upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich ocean currents loaded with carbon dioxide.
If you like oysters, it is time to pay attention to what is happening in Oregon. And even if you don’t like them, but care about the global food web that allows oysters to grow, reproduce and thrive, what’s happening Oregon should give you pause.
Ocean acidification, a consequence of the oceans being overloaded with carbon dioxide from human fossil fuel use, has been shown by a group of researchers to hamper the development of larval oysters at a hatchery on the Oregon coast. After years of suspicion, this was the smoking gun demonstrating that acidification has real damaging effects on commercial fisheries and that they are happening not 100 years from now but as we speak.
Scientists have been long able to demonstrate in the lab and on paper why this would be so. In the absence of hard evidence from the field, however, they have been exceptionally careful to distinguish what they know from what they suspect. But now it is folly to assume that this problem is limited to one small stretch of Pacific Northwest coastline.
As an indictment of our failure to wean ourselves off oil and coal, this is more fuel for the fire. More importantly, this news will help people understand that there is a hard dollar cost to misusing the oceans. Indeed there is tremendous financial incentive to leaving at least parts of it alone.
My job is lucky enough to come with an office that looks over a lovely marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean whose boundaries recently expanded as part of a revision of California Marine Protected Areas. Of course, this expansion didn’t happen without controversy. There was a predictable hue and cry from sportfishers and commercial fishers who claimed they were being physically separated from their livelihood by a line drawn in the water.
But the facts don’t necessarily support that. Fishermen in Baja California, Mexico decided more than a decade ago to create a marine reserve and make themselves the enforcers of its boundaries. The region they protect is now one of the biologically richest places in Mexico and the subsistence fishermen in Cabo Pulmo no longer have to worry about feeding themselves. California now has a chance to replicate that experience.
Separately a group of researchers writing for the Stockholm Environment Institute put an especially fine point on the argument against exploiting the oceans unsustainably. They calculated a cost savings of more than $1 trillion per year by 2100 if a course of aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction is pursued versus our current negligence, often labeled “business-as-usual.” It is a brave attempt to derive a hard dollar figure using extremely nebulous variables. Nonetheless they make a good argument that their estimate is a conservative one.
It is frustratingly naïve to believe that the benefits of offshore oil exploration (or terrestrial, for that matter) automatically justify the costs. The same can be said for corporate farming that routes tons of fertilizer and pesticides to the oceans. And the same is true for largely uncontrolled disposal of pharmaceutical products and plastics. It is naïve because even the most educated experts do not yet even know the full costs. The oyster industry in Oregon affected by ocean acidification is worth about $278 million, a pittance in a world where a single oilrig can cost $5 billion. On the other hand, that industry is everything to the people who rely on that fishery and a source of great pleasure to the consumers it serves. As if that is not enough to make us think, here is a final thought: The acidification brought on by the past 150 years or so of fossil fuel use will require more than 1,000 years to reverse.
The ocean is large and opaque. It is an act of irresponsible faith to think that impenetrable blue mass is big enough to absorb all our sins without consequence. We need to finish the work of realistically assessing the ocean’s value, and cherish it accordingly.
Tony Haymet, PhD, is director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and formerly Chief of Marine & Atmospheric Research at CSIRO Australia.