Underestimating Changes: Ocean Acidification Edition

One of the recurring themes in climate science has been that while skeptics and deniers repeatedly say that proponents of the theory of anthropogenic global warming are unnecessarily alarmist, the reality is, much of that “alarmist” science actually falls short of reality. The downside of building predictive models for the future based on past data, is that the future we’re trying to predict is unprecedented in human history.

And so, once again, we find that when we get around to looking at reality, things are a little farther along than we expected. The most recent illustration of this is a study published in the journal  PLoS ONE . In the discussion, the authors state:

The salient conclusions from this comparative dataset are two-fold: (1) most non-open ocean sites are indeed characterized by natural variation in seawater chemistry that can now be revealed through continuous monitoring by autonomous instrumentation, and (2) in some cases, seawater in these sites reaches extremes in pH, sometimes daily, that are often considered to only occur in open ocean systems well into the future [46]. (emphasis mine)

 Ocean acidification has been one of the more concrete aspects of the changes going on today, but even though it’s so easily measurable, it seems it may have been underestimated.

It’s a serious problem too, as it means that the water is less hospitable to anything with a calcium carbonate exoskeleton. Clams, mussels, lobsters, crabs, zooplankton, and coral are all already showing signs of thinner shells, dissolving reefs, and the ill health that comes with living in an environment that makes your outer layer slowly dissolve.

The oceans’ ecosystems are collapsing, under assault by rising temperatures, chemical pollution, spreading zones of low oxygen, and the persistent lowering of their pH as more and more of the CO2 we emit is absorbed. As a species, we still rely VERY heavily on oceanic fisheries for food, and now, even if we WEREN’T over-fishing, the world the fish live in is becoming uninhabitable, and is almost certainly doing so faster than they can adapt to.

Personally, I don’t think this is reversible anymore. I suppose if we stopped all fossil fuel use TODAY, the acidification might stop, or even reverse, but that’s not happening. It’s time to take a serious look at how to ease into a world in which there are NOT lots of good fish in the sea.


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