Carbon Emissions and Osteoporosis of the Sea
Ocean Acidification topped the list of concerns for a panel of marine scientists opening the annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami this week.
The topic was oceans, and when moderator Nancy Baron of the science education group, COMPASS asked the scientists to “Tell us how it is, really,” panelist and top NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said that rapidly rising acidity in the ocean is a “huge challenge.”
“It’s the most important under-reported global environmental story today,” she said. “The ocean has become 30% more acidic over the last century, and this massive change is likely to have serious impacts, and it’s likely to get worse.”
And where it’s playing out first, said Lubchenco, is the Pacific Northwest. Coastal Washington and Oregon, she said, are “ground zero” for ocean acidification, due to upwelling from the deep ocean and local runoff that exacerbates the already acidifying sea.
An increasingly acidic ocean, she said, is sometimes referred to as “osteoporosis of the sea” because it affects the “hard parts” of organisms, causing shells to break down, or not form at all. This is not only lethal for the organisms themselves, she said, but it also disrupts the entire food chain. Lubchenco said new research is showing that rising acidity also affects organisms’ sense of smell and impacts reproduction. “This is an unfolding story,” she said. “There’s a lot we don’t know.”
Lubchenco said more research and monitoring is needed, but that’s unlikely to happen in this tough economic climate. She recommended that action be taken at the local level to reduce runoff into the sea, particularly nitrogen pollution, and to prevent overfishing and invasive species. But the only long-term solution, she said, is for the world to reduce carbon emissions.
For an explanation of how carbon emissions influence ocean acidification, and what that means for the world’s marine ecosystems, check out this four-minute video from NOAA.