John on Press Herald Post


All life on Earth depends on the ocean.   Even yours.

I’m often struck that when policy makers worry about Climate Change they don’t also talk about Ocean Change.   Ocean IS climate – the two are in an inseparable dance that creates the conditions for life on Earth.

We have been hearing news lately about the Russians, and the Scandinavians, and the North Americans all vying for control of Arctic natural resources.  I did not realize the immediacy of the competition until I saw this website:

The summer of 2008 may be the first time in human history that the North Pole is ice free – meaning that the ice pack is broken up and ships are free to transit Arctic waters, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

But it’s not just about polar bears, folks.

The ocean is the big sink.  Ultimately, all the byproducts of our civilization find their way to our oceans – heat, pollution, plastics.  But that sink is now filled to the brink and we are starting to discern recognizable change.

As the Pepsi generation is well familiar, carbonated water creates a mild acid.  Carbon from the atmosphere is absorbed by seawater.  The vast volume of water on earth has been mitigating the effects of our industrial revolution for centuries, but that buffering may now be fizzed out.  And a little change goes a long way to tip the balance.

Think “acid rain” on a massive scale.

Ocean scientists hypothesize that seawater will become 10% more acid by 2050.  That great a change in PH is enough to destroy all the coral reefs on the planet!  But we can live without coral, or polar bears.  What we can’t live without is zooplankton.  These tiny animals are the basic food-stuff of the sea, and without them the entire food-web collapses.  When you look at zooplankton under the microscopic you see that most of them are tiny crustaceans with tiny calcium shells.  Calcium dissolves in high PH.

A marine ecologist friend, who has been working at Biosphere Two, will soon be publishing a paper on primary productivity in the face of elevated seawater acidity.  I’ll post it when it’s out.

Meanwhile, NOAA fishery scientists from Woods Hole, MA recently reported that primary productivity (the food that the fish eat) in the Gulf of Maine appears to be trending down over the last decade.  Let’s hope that trend reverses sometime soon.