Ocean acidity gets action from scientists and enviros alike

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are turning the oceans more acidic, according to scientists who have been raising alarms for years.

The acidity threatens the marine food web, with the most direct effects on the shells and skeletons of shellfish and corals, since their absorption of calcium carbonate is reduced in a more acidic environment.

Let’s take note of a few new milestones, although nobody has a practical idea for responding to the threat without addressing the entire issue of global warming.

First, and none too soon, the first comprehensive national study of ocean acidity was commissioned last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation. See Oct. 20 news release.

The study followed an international symposium in early October, called the “Second International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World.” The meeting’s chairman, James Orr of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had this to say in a prepared statement:

“Since the industrial revolution, the acidity of ocean surface waters has increased by 30 percent. This change is greater and happening about 100 times faster than for previous acidification events experienced in many millions of years…

“Published research indicates that by 2030, the Southern Ocean will start to become corrosive to the shells of some marine snails that swim in surface waters. These snails provide a major source of food for Pacific Salmon.

“If they decline or disappear in some regions, such as the North Pacific, what will happen to the salmon – and the salmon fishing industry? And what will happen as ocean acidification increasingly affects coral reefs, which are home to one-quarter of the world’s fish during at least part of their lifetime, and which support a multi-billion dollar tourist industry?”

Finally, the Center for Biological Diversity today issued a notice to the Environmental Protection Agency saying it intends to sue the federal government for failure to respond to the threat of ocean acidification. Last year, the environmental group filed a formal petition asking EPA to impose stricter pH standards for ocean water quality and to publish guidance to help states protect U.S. waters.

A press release from the center includes these comments:

The federal Clean Water Act requires the EPA to update water-quality criteria to reflect the latest scientific knowledge. Since the agency developed the pH standard back in 1976, an extensive body of research has developed on the impacts of carbon dioxide on the oceans.

“Ocean acidification is global warming’s evil twin,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. “The EPA has a duty under the Clean Water Act to protect our nation’s waters from pollution, and today, carbon dioxide is one of the biggest threats to our ocean waters.”

It appears the Center for Biological Diversity is launching a flank attack on the global warming issue via the Clean Water Act, which allows citizen lawsuits. A similar flank maneuver involved the effort to get the polar bear protected under the Endangered Species Act as a result of melting ice caused by global warming. See CBD press release.

Clearly, environmental groups are not waiting for a new administration to move into the White House or to see how President Barack Obama might address the threat of global warming.

One thought on “Ocean acidity gets action from scientists and enviros alike

  1. This issue is probably the scariest of all of them. I’ve been wondering for sometime as scientists debated the rise in CO2 levels about when we would create an atmosphere that would make life on earth untenable. It seemed that maybe a hundred years out was a guess. However, now we see that the oceans may become hostile to life much sooner than that.

    (climbing on soapbox for a moment)

    The threat to life on earth, regardless of whether you, like Michael Creighton, Rush Limbaugh, or Sarah Palin, believe that the whole warming is not man made or that, like the vast majority of leading scientists, you believe that it is, is a real threat to us and our children. I’d love to see people stop debating who caused what and come to grips with solving the problem. This will take everyone, not just the U.S. We have to find a way to get this as a front burner issue, but we are now mired in global bankruptcy, also brought about by us, and a war without end, both from a military and financial standpoint.

    I keep coming back to the notion of act locally. Get up off the chair and do something…lots of organizations and community activities, like county shoreline planning meetings, and other involvement that is just begging for folks to participate in.

    It’s also been amazing for me to see the complexity of the issues when I start hearing from multiple points of view in these meetings. No one has the “one” answer.

    Ok. I’m off the soapbox now…

    thanks for keeping the information flowing. I appreciate the Kitsap Sun and it’s advertisers for supporting this column.

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