Oregon Oysters! So Popular on Summer Menus! At risk from Carbon Dioxide in the waters off our coast! Ocean Acidification is damaging sea life across the globe, now it’s putting the future of Oregon fisheries at risk. Host, Linda Olson-Osterlund on A Deeper Look is joined by Dr. George Waldbusser of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. He talks about his recent study that definitively links the increasing acidity of the ocean to the collapse of oyster seed production along the coast. How driving our cars and heating our homes can contribute to killing our seas. He’ll also talk about what steps hatcheries are taking to mitigate the damaged caused by the changing ph level and what we as individual can to to address the broader issue of CO2 emissions.
Archive for July 27th, 2012
Tags: chemistry, modeling, North Pacific
The burning of fossil fuels emits some 35 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. That has already begun to change the fundamental chemistry of the world’s oceans, steadily increasing their level of acidity. On page 220 of this week’s issue of Science, scientists report projections from a new high-resolution computer model showing that over the next 4 decades, the combination of deep-water upwelling and rising atmospheric CO2 is likely to have profound impacts on waters off the West Coast of the United States, home to one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems and most important commercial fisheries. The new computer model is only one of several recent warning signs. Numerous laboratory and field studies over the past few years underscore rising concerns that ocean acidification could devastate marine ecosystems on which millions of people depend for food and jobs.
The ocean may seem timeless and impervious. Yet we are increasingly seeing that in the sea, as in the natural world as a whole, the only thing that is constant is change.
While some changes–like habitat loss or overfishing –have long been studied, we are only just beginning to understand emerging threats like ocean acidification. Sometimes described as “osteoporosis of the sea,” we already know that ocean acidification is impacting the health of shellfish and coral reefs. But we have as many questions as answers about the long-term implications for sea life and people.
Scientists are currently playing catch-up in an effort to understand what acidification, caused by oceans absorbing excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and climate change will mean for the ocean. Over the last decade, the pace at which those factors have triggered changes in ocean conditions is startling.
Earth’s oceans are carbon sinks, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helping prevent global warming, right? Unfortunately, carbon dioxide turns into an acid in the ocean, causing its pH to rise–a process called ocean acidification. Those who’ve heard of this phenomenon often associate it with declining coral reefs in the tropics. However, one of the best places to observe this effect is in Oregon, where a unique ocean environment creates seasonal peaks in acidity that are causing huge losses in the oyster industry. The Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association has estimated the loss at $34 million since the problem started in 2006.
“We’ve linked together high carbon dioxide water with the failures in those hatcheries,” said George Waldbusser, assistant professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry at Oregon State University. “They were basically on the verge of failure in 2008.”
Data collected from Bermuda’s waters is being used to track the effects of ocean acidification.
In a paper recently published by the journal Biogeosciences, a team of scientists from Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) and Scripps Institute of Oceanography used data collected near Bermuda to demonstrate the impact of ocean acidification.
The ocean naturally absorbs around a third of carbon dioxide found in the air, but with carbon dioxide levels in the air rising, the ocean is absorbing more.
The build up of carbon dioxide [CO2] in the atmosphere contributes not only to climate change but also to changes in the ocean as the global ocean eventually absorbs nearly 30% of the planet’s atmospheric CO2, researchers at BIOS said.
Over time, this results in significant changes to seawater chemistry—such as a reduction in pH—that can potentially impact marine ecosystems.
These changes in seawater chemistry due to the absorption of carbon dioxide are collectively known as ocean acidification. In addition to pollution and global warming, this represents another global threat to the ocean’s fragile ecosystems.
Dr. Nicholas Bates, Senior Scientist and Interim Director at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences [BIOS], says that “assessing the present and future impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems requires detection of long-term change across ocean basins and at ocean time-series sites.”