Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Ocean’

FRANK HARTZELL, Fort Bragg Advocate News, June 11, 2010

Rising acidity of ocean waters will wipe out the world’s coral reefs and could devastate crab, scallops and other creatures that build shells from calcium compounds in ocean waters, a top professor told a Fort Bragg audience last Friday.

San Francisco State Professor Jonathon Stillman presented figures that showed the pH balance of ocean waters has tilted toward acid in the past 20 years. That’s nearly as much as it did in the previous 200 years, which were themselves a steady but slow increase over historical levels.

The bad news could be good news for Fort Bragg’s efforts to launch a marine science study center. Millions in study funding has already been pledged by various organizations to monitor new Marine Life Protected Areas. Ocean acidification and upwelling present further tasks critical to the planet’s future that a local marine study center could help with, locals said.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is a public-private effort to create a connected array of new areas of the ocean where fishing uses are prohibited or restricted. The MLPAI is a private organization authorized by the state and funded by the Resources Legacy Foundation Fund to gather public input and create the proposed maps of closed areas.

Stillman presented preliminary experimental data that showed disturbing changes to mollusks, crustaceans and even fish, including decreasing shell-building and creature size.

Rising proof about the impacts of global climate change and acidification show that coral reefs will actually be melted in this century if current rates of acidification continue.

Perhaps most distressing to the crowd of about 40 people was that the life-giving upwelling off the Mendocino Coast actually adds to acidification by bringing up more acidic deep waters.

The more upwelling, the more acidic waters become.

Ocean acidification is caused by atmospheric carbon dissolving in the oceans. Ocean acidity has been rising since the beginning of the industrial revolution, as factories, cars and even cows have pumped out increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. About 30% of carbon released into the atmosphere ends up in the oceans.

Stillman was both harried and delighted by the steady barrage of questions from the audience. Many were complex and scientific in nature such as queries from geologist Skip Wollenberg and seaweed harvester Tomas DiFiore.

Everybody seemed to have a question and got an answer from the professor:

  • Do rising salinity levels contribute? Answer: No and icecap melting means salinity is actually going down.
  • What about studying the winds that drive upwelling? Answer: Important question but too tangential.

Wollenberg wanted to know if the fossil record provided any warnings of what happens when oceans get more acid. Stillman said it does, but wanted time to share important recent studies on that subject before answering, and he ran out of time, due to all the questions and discussion.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative never came up, although, it has greatly raised local interest (and controversy) in ocean issues and local participation in solving problems with the oceans.

The talk was sponsored by COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea) and OST (Ocean Science Trust). COMPASS seeks to help scientists like Stillman step outside the ivory tower and communicate complex topics to the general public.

“They are an effort to provide relevant science talks to our communities — which is such a treat,” said Jeanine Pfeiffer, a locally-based college science teacher who is also outreach coordinator for MLPAI. “I personally am thrilled to have free access to the types of seminars I used to be able to see on a weekly basis at UC Davis, but are so rare here on the coast, due to our remote location.”

Stillman provided no solutions, with his handout stating that reduced carbon output is the only solution to ocean acidification (as well as rising sea levels).

More scientific study of the oceans — like that locals hope to create with a science center on the former Georgia Pacific mill site — is critical to the survival of the planet, Stillman said.

“At present we cannot adequately predict how marine ecosystems as a whole will respond to ocean acidification and our ability to deal with (acidification) depends on how well we can predict its effects,” Stillman’s handout states.

State efforts to stem global climate change and prepare for rising sea levels were explained to the crowd by Sheila Semans, project specialist with the California Ocean Protection Council, the state agency that oversees the oceans.

She explained the sweeping Global Warming Solutions Act signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 that targets emission reductions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Among important specific actions she cited was the acquisition of Bay Area wetlands, mostly from the Cargill Corporation, another public-privatized effort (like MLPAI) financed by the Resources Legacy Foundation.

Unlike Georgia Pacific at the mill site, Cargill was allowed to convey tens of thousands of acres to the state before cleaning up toxic effects of generations of salt mining.

This reporter, accompanied by dissident Bay Area local environmentalists and Department of Fish and Game employees, toured miles of these former salt marshes, which support little life in many places. The state has little funding for a cleanup that could cost a billion.

Local critics of the acquisition process for the salt marshes (such as refuge friends organizations) say they were unable to influence the centralized marketing and acquisition process. After the massive land tracts were acquired amid much fanfare, problems with the amount paid and the extent of the cleanup needed emerged, as local critics had predicted.

The MLPAI effort pledges better follow up study, but many locals remain skeptical that study dollars or efforts will involve locals and those with hands-on familiarity with the local ocean.

– For an overview of climate change: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/

– California Climate Change portal: http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/

The site with videos addressing rising sea levels (and other topics): http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/visualization/index.html

– Cargill acquisition: http://baynature.org/articles/jul-sep-2007/highway-to-the-flyway/napa-sonoma-marshes

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

JEANNE ROBERTS, Celsias via CleanTechies, March 29, 2010

There is a cascade failure going on in the world’s oceans that promises nothing but trouble in the future, and the problem stems in part from agricultural practices developed over the last half-decade aimed at growing more food on the same amount of land to feed rising populations.

A cascade failure is the progressive collapse of an integral system. Many scientists also call them negative feedback loops, in that unfortunate situations reinforce one another, precipitating eventual and sometimes complete failure.

The agricultural practices relate to “factory farming,” in which farmers grow crops using more and more chemical fertilizers, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the first two ingredients (chemical symbols N and P) listed on any container or bag of fertilizer. The last is potassium, or K.

But farmers aren’t the only culprits. Lawn enthusiasts add to the problem with their massive applications of fertilizer designed to maintain a species of plant that doesn’t provide either food or habitat, and is grown merely to add prestige. And groundskeepers at parks and large corporate headquarters are equally guilty. In fact, a whole generation needs to rethink its addiction to lawns.

Whoever is guilty of applying the fertilizer, these megadoses are eventually washed off the fields and lawns and into waterways. From there, they migrate to the nearest large bodies of water, where they spark such tremendous and unnatural growth in aquatic plants that the result is eutrophication , or lack of oxygen in the water as bacteria act to reduce the sheer mass of dying organic matter.

One of these aquatic growths is algae, or phytoplankton. Moderate algal growth can produce higher fish yields and actually benefit lakes and oceans, but over-stimulation leads to a whole host of problems whose integral relationship to one another threatens not only aquatic but human life.

A classic example would be the Baltic Sea, where phytoplankton are raging out of control. The Baltic Sea is, as a result, home to seven out of ten of the world’s largest “dead zones,” aquatic areas where nothing survives.

One of the other three is the Gulf of Mexico, where a 2008 dead zone the size of Massachusetts is expected to grow in future years thanks to the U.S. government’s biofuel mandate. Most of the crops for biofuel are grown along the Mississippi River, which drains directly into this dead zone.

In the Baltic, as elsewhere, overfishing has exacerbated the problem. Fish feed on smaller aquatic organisms, which themselves feed on the algae. Take the fish out of the equation, and the balance is lost. It’s very much like removing the wolves that keep down the deer population in order to protect the sheep, and it doesn’t work in the ocean any better than it works on land.

Once the algal blooms begin to thrive, they block sunlight to deeper water and begin to kill off seaweeds and other aquatic plants which are home to fish species. The dying plants then consume more oxygen as bacteria consume them. And, as the seaweeds die, the few remaining fish and shellfish species move away, deprived of habitat.

This is a classic example of a negative feedback loop, and it is reinforced by every meal of fish, every instance of Scotts lawn fertilizer, and every ear of corn grown with a little help from Cargill or Dow, to name just two multinational fertilizer manufacturers.

Another example is occurring in the Pacific Northwest , along the West Coast of the United States, where — in Washington State, Oregon, and even Northern California — piles of Dungeness crab shells on the ocean floor mark areas of severe eutrophication well within sight of land.

Elsewhere along the Pacific shoreline, bird deaths – ranging from pelicans to sea ducks – predict a failure in the natural world that can’t help but reverberate among the planet’s prime predator, man.

These areas of eutrophication have always been present, but their spread – from one or two areas to miles of coastal waters – indicates a larger problem that is likely about to overwhelm not only the fishing industry and tourism but the existence of oceans as living entities.

As Oregon State University ocean sciences professor Jack Barth notes, the once-scarce areas of low oxygen have become the “new normal”, with old areas repeating and new areas cropping up every year. In many of these areas, oxygen levels are 30% lower than they were a mere half-decade ago.

Not all algal blooms are harmful or noxious, of course. But those which occur in response to eutrophication do seem to be, and these – known as HABs, or harmful algal blooms – include pseudo-nitzschia producing algae, which deliver a neurotoxin called domoic acid that can kill humans, birds and aquatic mammals that eat the affected shellfish; golden algae, which under certain conditions produce toxins that cause massive fish and bivalve (clams, mussels, oysters) kills; brown tides, which are not toxic in themselves but create aquatic conditions that can kill fish larvae; red tides, which produce brevetoxins that can affect breathing and sometimes trigger fatal, respiratory illnesses in humans; and blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which can form dense colonies that cause water to smell and become toxic to fish, pets and humans.

This last, which has spread from Texas to Minnesota, has led to livestock deaths in the former. In the latter, where having a lake home is a sign of prestige, many homeowners have been forced to sell at a loss to get away from once-pristine lakes so smelly and toxic that dozens of pet dogs have been killed drinking the water.

Lower oxygen levels in oceans are very attractive to one species; jellyfish, and these odd creatures with their many tentacles and poisonous sting thrive under such conditions. In fact, jellyfish have few predators except man, and those few (tuna, sharks, swordfish, a carnivorous coral , one species of Pacific salmon and the leatherback turtle) are all at great risk of extinction because of eutrophication and its related conditions, pollution, overfishing and climate change.

As one of the most prolific species in the ocean, and certainly one with a long history (the species has been around since the Cambrian), jellyfish will probably take over the oceans if things continue as they have been going since the 1960s. This is good news for the Japanese, Chinese and other Oriental cultures who regard the slimy beast as a delicacy.

For the rest of us, jellyfish are an acquired taste, and one we had better acquire if we want to keep eating seafood. Either that, or we can support legislation that, in the U.S. at least, promises some relief through research, monitoring and rule-making regarding the Great Lakes and both coasts.

Read Full Post »

SAM WATERSON, Special to CNN, November 2, 2009

CNN Editor’s Note: Sam Waterston is an award-winning stage, film and television actor who is best known for his long-running role as prosecutor Jack McCoy on “Law & Order.” He is a member of the board of directors of Oceana, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the world’s oceans by opposing overfishing and pollution.

t1larg.waterston.courtesyAs a native New Englander, I know full and well how much we depend on the oceans. They have often been a solution for our problems.

They’ve been a highway for goods and people, connecting us to the world, and a barrier against foreign invasion, protecting us from the world; a source of food and wealth, going back to our earliest beginnings, when whale oil lit our houses and when cod were so plentiful that huge specimens were commonly stacked like cordwood on our docks and wharves, and still there were so many that you could almost walk on their backs across some harbors.

Until the recent unrelenting hammering by our technologically impressive, very efficient, very destructive commercial fishing fleets, the seas have seemed an inexhaustible cornucopia of sea life for our sustenance, delight and wonder.

Now, science tells us the global wild fish catch is, for the first time in history, declining. Fortunately, we also know what steps our governments need to take to reverse this trend — steps that can again return our seas to abundance.

But, along with the ravages of industrial-scale fishing, there is another even more troubling story to tell about our oceans. For centuries, our oceans have been an uncomplaining dump. They’ve absorbed our waste — from manufacturing, power generation, and oil spills, and our nuclear waste, our trash, and our sewage.

And carbon. For the last 250 years, the oceans have absorbed 30% of the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, moderating and masking its global impact. They take in 11 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Each year, the amount we release grows another 3%.

What happens to the carbon dioxide absorbed by the seas is something that you should understand if you love seafood or care about the millions of fishing jobs vital to coastal towns.

Carbon dioxide combines with seawater to create carbonic acid, raising the acidity of that vast solution and reducing the amount of available carbonate. And that is serious mischief for all kinds of sea life, from corals and pteropods, continuing on through shellfish, clams, oysters, lobsters, mussels and so on, which need carbonate to make the structures that support them.

A chain reaction begins. Even creatures whose own structural parts might better survive a decrease in available carbonate in sea water depend to one degree or another on critters with higher sensitivity. Whales and salmon eat pteropods for dinner. The very tasty and much-prized Alaskan pink salmon makes pteropods 45% of its diet.

Many kinds of fish need corals for habitat. And corals aren’t just tropical — the colder the water they live in, the more vulnerable they are to changes in the availability of carbonate.

The current acidification level hasn’t been seen for at least 800,000 years, and acidification is coming on 100 times faster than at any point for hundreds of thousands for years. The levels are alarming. The rate of change makes them even scarier, because it so restricts the ability of sea creatures to adapt.

In contrast to the debate that continues about the causal relationship between this or that weather event and human activity, there is no debate about the source of ocean acidification. The change in the chemistry of the ocean is a man-made event, plain and simple, and the consequences of its continuing rise in acidity will belong squarely to us.

It will make for some uncomfortable moments around the dinner table when our children and grandchildren ask, “What did you do in the [climate] war, Daddy?” If we don’t recognize the ocean’s warning, the first cataclysm from man-made carbon dioxide emissions that will get our attention will be the collapse of the oceans.

If we do recognize the warning, the oceans are ready to be a solution. Power in the tides and waves is there to tap. Offshore wind power is a technology that’s ready to go right now, near the great population centers on our coasts, where it’s most needed.

For 800,000 years, the seas were a stable solution, a hospitable solution for all sorts of creatures to live in, and a generous solution to all sorts of human problems, from food supply to waste disposal. We must not make them inhospitable, for people or for the 80% of life on the planet that lives in them.

Carbon dioxide in the sea is the front line of climate carbon addiction. Reverse the trend toward ocean acidification, and we will also have made a giant stride in addressing the effects of climate change. The sea is warning us to change course and calling us to seize enormous opportunities. Now.

Read Full Post »

Endangered species’ communication critical to survival

ARIEL DAVID, Seattle Post Intelligence, December 8, 2008

Whale-460_980418cThe songs that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world’s oceans, U.N. officials and environmental groups said Wednesday.

That sound pollution — everything from increasing commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar — is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the survival of these endangered animals.

Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome.

“Call it a cocktail-party effect,” said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a Britain-based NGO. “You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore.”

An indirect source of noise pollution may also be coming from climate change, which is altering the chemistry of the oceans and making sound travel farther through sea water, the experts said.

Representatives of more than 100 governments are gathered in Rome for a meeting of the U.N.-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The agenda of the conference, which ends Friday, includes ways to increase protection for endangered species, including measures to mitigate underwater noise.

Environmental groups also are increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to sound pollution, Simmonds said.

Marine mammals are turning up on the world’s beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in divers suffering from decompression sickness. The condition, known as the bends, causes gas bubbles to form in the bloodstream upon surfacing too quickly.

Scientists say the use of military sonar or seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond their physical limits, Simmonds said.

Several species of cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how many animals are affected, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious factor, the experts said.

As an example, Simmonds offered two incidents this year that, though still under study, could be linked to noise pollution: the beaching of more than 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar and that of two dozen common dolphins on the southern British coast.

The sound of a seismic test, used to locate hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 1,800 miles under water, said Veronica Frank, an official with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A study by her group found that the blue whale, which used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90 percent of its range over the past 40 years.

Despite being the largest mammal ever to inhabit Earth, the endangered blue whale still holds mysteries for scientists.

“We don’t even know where their breeding grounds are,” Simmonds said. “But what’s most important is that they need to know where they are.”

Other research suggests that rising levels of carbon dioxide are increasing the acidity of the Earth’s oceans, making sound travel farther through sea water.

The study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the United States shows the changes may mean some sound frequencies are traveling 10% farther than a few centuries ago. That could increase to 70% by 2050 if greenhouse gases are not cut.

However, governments seem ready to take action, said Nick Nutall, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program, which administers the convention being discussed in Rome. The conference is discussing a resolution that would oblige countries to reduce sound pollution, he said.

Measures suggested include rerouting shipping and installing quieter engines as well as cutting speed and banning tests and sonar use in areas known to be inhabited by the animals.

Read Full Post »

MendoCoastCurrent, October 27, 2009

Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks there have been numerous Blue Whales showing up dead on the coast of California and a cause of the recent Blue Whale washing up on the Mendocino coast has been the topic of great discussion and mystery here. Actual cause of death has been identified by propeller of a NOAA research ship. Additionally, here’s a new theory based on noise pollution and new research: Blue whales are forced to make more noise to compete with man-made noise pollution like ship sounds and sonar. More specifically: Blue whales increase their ‘singing’ to cope with noise pollution. And: Man-made noise such as ships’ engines has caused hearing loss in whales.

LOUISE GRAY, Telegraph UK, September 23, 2009

Whale-460_980418cIt has also caused other behavioural changes, including forcing the creatures to strand on beaches because they are unable to navigate.

The endangered blue whale uses sonar to navigate, locate prey, avoid predators and communicate.

However in recent years the increasing use of hi-tech sonar by ships, the noise of propellers, seismic surveys, sea-floor drilling, and low-frequency radio transmissions have made oceans noisier.

New research has shown that the whales are having to ‘chatter’ more often and for longer periods to communicate the location of prey and to mate.

Zoologist Lucia Di Iorio, of the University of Zurich, analysed the song of blue whales recorded by microphones during seismic explorations in the St Lawrence estuary off Canada’s north east coast over an eleven day period in August 2004.

“We found that blue whales called consistently more on seismic exploration days than on non-exploration days as well as during periods within a seismic survey day when the sparker was operating,” she said.

“This increase was observed for the discrete, audible calls that are emitted during social encounters and feeding.”

The study, published in Biology Letters, provides the first evidence that blue whales change their calling behaviour when exposed to sounds from seismic surveys.

“This study suggests careful reconsideration of the potential behavioural impacts of even low source level seismic survey sounds on large whales. This is particularly relevant when the species is at high risk of extinction as is the blue whale,” added Dr Di Iorio.

Read Full Post »