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The other problem with CO2- Ocean Acidification
September 5, 2009 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Most people have heard about how rising CO2 levels are resulting in a changing global climate. Fewer have heard about the other consequence of rising CO2 levels- when the CO2 is absorbed into the oceans, it disassociates into carbonic acid. This alters the pH of our world's oceans, and it's called "Ocean Acidification". This changing ocean chemistry has many important and devastating consequences.

Many marine organisms rely on complex chemical interactions with the ocean for survival, and these processes will be more difficult (if not impossible) in a more acidic ocean. One organism threatened by ocean acidification is corals (which take calcium carbonate out of seawater to make coral reefs. These reefs serve as home for thousands of unique life forms, and make up a huge part of the world's ecotourism business- and if corals can't make this reefs, these reef residents (as well as SCUBA diving businesses) are in big trouble. Crabs and other crustaceans also rely on ocean chemistry to make their protective shells, and without their shells they won't be able to survive. Perhaps most devastating of all is that a more acidic ocean will make it impossible for pteropods to make their protective shells. Pteropods, also known as sea butterflies or sea angels, are a plankton species that serves as the base of many food chains. Without them, many commercially important fish populations could collapse. There is some good news- the same steps that we are taking to fight global warming will also help fight ocean acidification, since it's really just another symptom of the same problem.
posted by WhySharksMatter (21 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is some good news- the same steps that we are taking to fight global warming will also help fight ocean acidification, since it's really just another symptom of the same problem.

Are taking? I think you mean "would like to take".
posted by delmoi at 11:01 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The world is a complex system. Try swapping out some key words from Nassim Taleb's interview with the Washington Post about the forces that contributed the economic meltdown and it draws some interesting parallels. Only when you're fucking around with things like THE OCEAN there is no bailout to save you. That's it.
"You have close to a million 6 billion people out there in economic life the world. How many people saw the extent of what could happen in this financial environmental crisis? Some people said we'd have a problem of too much leverage pollution, but very few saw the potential total impact that could come out of it. They didn't see the cascading effects that can be produced by a complex system."
posted by quadog at 11:59 PM on September 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


Great post, absolutely crucial subject. So crucial it could do with a bit of link expansion.

Over the past year or so, leading coral reef researchers have rung the loudest alarms at their disposal on this subject - first with the "Honolulu Declaration on Ocean Acidification and Reef Management" and then with the Monaco Declaration.

Charlie Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and named in the Honolulu Declaration as "the world's foremost coral reef researcher," has been even more urgent in his message - asserting in newspapers the world over that the Great Barrier Reef will be essentially destroyed inside of 20 years. For a more in-depth and even more harrowing sense of Veron's viewpoint, see his magnum opus A Reef in Time or this transcript of an excellent lecture Veron delivered on Australia's ABC Radio upon the book's release.

An excerpt from the ABC lecture:
When I started writing my book, I knew that climate change was likely to have serious consequences for coral reefs. But the big picture which emerged, quite frankly, left me shocked to the core.

This really led to a period of personal anguish. I turned to specialists in many different fields of science to find anything that might suggest a fault in that big picture. I was depressingly unsuccessful. The bottom line remains: the combination of the best science today argues that the Great Barrier Reef can indeed be utterly trashed in the lifetime of today's children. That is what motivates me to broadcast this message as clearly, as accurately, and as far as possible.
If you're in favour of, you know, life on earth, you owe it to yourself to get educated on the urgency of the acidification problem. It's the canary in the global coalmine, the closest thing yet to climate change's irreversible tipping point, and we won't know it's happening at catastrophic scale until it's past the point of remediation.
posted by gompa at 12:30 AM on September 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


"You have close to a million 6 billion people out there in economic life the world. How many people saw the extent of what could happen in this financial environmental crisis? Some people said we'd have a problem of too much leverage pollution, but very few saw the potential total impact that could come out of it. They didn't see the cascading effects that can be produced by a complex system."
I don't think many people are unaware of the potential consequence of global warming. Although there are conservatives out there now who just say we should go ahead do it because it will only cost 3% of the global GDP (because the hardest hit areas are also poor!) so who cares? Ugh.
posted by delmoi at 12:55 AM on September 6, 2009


)

There. I feel better.
posted by The Tensor at 1:13 AM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


KURT VONNEGUT: I think we ought to stop reproducing. But since we're not going to do that, I think the planet's immune system is trying to get rid of us...Well, it's too late! Look, the game is over! The game is over.
posted by you just lost the game at 2:05 AM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I went to Charlie Veron's talk about this at the Royal Society a few weeks back. It was probably the most depressing talk I've ever been to. You can watch the whole thing (1hr) here.
posted by jonesor at 3:45 AM on September 6, 2009


Joint statement by 70 national science academies on ocean acidification.
posted by Bangaioh at 5:03 AM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sadly, it may very well be too late for us to assuage the problems at this point. It's entirely possible that the melting of much of the northern permafrost will occur now, no matter what we do. Each 1% of the permafrost that melts is equal to 1 year worth of human-based pollution. If it all melts, that'd be equivalent to an entire CENTURY of today's human-caused pollution output, and it's melting now, and the melting is accelerating. Less snow/ice each year means less reflected back into space which causes more melting, and so on, a self-reinforcing cycle. It seems to me (and I hope I'm wrong) that this cycle no longer even needs human pollution to be self-sustaining at this point -- in other words, we may be deep enough into the warming process that even if every human and every human-created pollution device on the planet were to disappear, significant warming (and ocean acidification) would now occur anyway. Warming has a momentum all its own now, and I don't know that we have the capability to regain control of that at this point.
posted by jamstigator at 6:00 AM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


This, and the US is arguing about things that don't exists in a piece of half-written legislation. EPIC EPIC EPIC EPIC FAIL: YOU ROLLED A ONE SO HARD THE DICE BROKE AND THE DICE FACTORY BLEW UP AND OH YEAH HUMANITY IS GOING TO STARVE TO DEATH UNLESS WE ATOM BOMB OURSELVES TO DEATH.
posted by fuq at 8:31 AM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's the total shit, though: there are so many people who are so unsavvy about chemistry and biology and science in general that they look at this information and go 'uuuuuhhhhhh whuuuuuuut?'

Especially the ones who are trying to bilk money off of exploiting the environment.

All this ties in into even worse problems for humanity.
posted by kldickson at 8:49 AM on September 6, 2009


and to top it all of, we just lost Van Jones!
posted by tarantula at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2009


I've been waiting to see what the conservative spin machine is going to make of this.

I expect we will soon see deniers and debunkers over what seems like undeniable proof that the CO2 we add is causing serious damage to the environment.
posted by atchafalaya at 9:48 AM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um, are you sure doing more "vigorous debate" wouldn't help?
posted by Deathalicious at 10:06 AM on September 6, 2009


They didn't see the cascading effects that can be produced by a complex system.

Yeah. It seems like ignorance of this comes up again and again in a variety of different areas. The environment. The economy. Iraq.
posted by brundlefly at 12:13 PM on September 6, 2009


I want to cap every enviroweenie that was ever fighting against nuclear power.
posted by Talez at 6:28 PM on September 6, 2009


I want to cap every enviroweenie that was ever fighting against nuclear power

Easy there, cowboy. There isn't a magic bullet for this problem.

Check out Harry Shearer's weekly radio show for segments that reveal just how unprepared we are to deal with the fallout (pun intended) of nuclear waste disposal. After a few listens it becomes quite arguable that we have no reliable system to handle that particular detail - which is an important one given that it's around for thousands of years.
posted by quadog at 10:24 PM on September 6, 2009


Thank goodness changed climate systems and acidic oceans won't be around for nearly that long!
posted by hippybear at 11:03 PM on September 6, 2009


I want to cap every enviroweenie that was ever fighting against nuclear power.

Boy howdy, Talez, that thar's some well-aimed hate, I tell you what.

Sure wouldn't want to lay any blame on oil companies - ExxonMobil in particular - who spent hundreds of millions of dollars on astroturf "climate" groups that paraded junk science and unscrupulous scientists through the media to keep the "debate" muddy all through the '90s. And don't get mad at the OPEC nations who brought their own cadres of dubious experts to IPCC meetings to water down the language on climate change declarations. An American government openly hostile to the very idea of climate change for most of the last decade? A minor actor. The general public treating cheap fuel and outsized living like a birthright? Innocent or misunderstood, I guess.

Nope, it's them enviroweenies with their insurmountable power to stop benevolent nuclear power from spreading far and wide. Sure's shootin'.

Good christ, I've read some dumb stuff about the root causes of this mess, but rarely do you find such density of stupid in a single sentence.
posted by gompa at 11:16 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course. Because it's much easier to blame the dealer than the addict.

If we had 50 years of real experience with nuclear we could maybe have a real way to deal with nuclear waste. RTG advancement, fast breeders, fuel recycling? All of these could have seen huge advancement.

Or we could have gone for solar which has only just started to break an EROEI of 1. Or wind which has its own environmental issues with local wildlife, hydro which only works in certain situations and geothermal which has had major trouble scaling. Not to mention the only one of those capable of functioning as a base load power station and it's the one that can't scale.

Nuclear was the far lesser of all the evils. Instead we got a bogeyman and 50 years of carbon dioxide emissions. Look at France. If we were all like them we probably wouldn't be in this mess.

Let's blame it on the oil companies though. They're a much easier target than a group of NIMBYs and "OMG ATUMS!!!" whackos that demand we burn fossil fuels while we make alternatives practical instead of demanding a safer, more accountable nuclear industry. But who wants to do that when you can be a reactionary dipshit writing off an entire industry that could have most likely saved the biosphere from an absoluty stupifying amount of CO2 emissions simply because of irrational fear of what they don't understand.

But whatever. We've done it now I suppose.
posted by Talez at 5:36 AM on September 7, 2009


Ocean acidification is a major reason to worry about forms of geoengineering based around reflecting sunlight away from the planet, whether by clouds, mirrors, or other means.

Any form of geoengineering that doesn't actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere will leave the acidification problem unaddressed.
posted by sindark at 10:13 AM on September 9, 2009


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