Tag Archives: Jane Lubchenco

Ocean acidification deserves more research attention

Ocean acidification off the U.S. Pacific Coast is likely to get increased attention and research dollars with Jane Lubchenco heading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lubchenco, a marine ecologist from Oregon State University, has served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is well grounded in basic research.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Lubchenco discusses some of her priorities, including how NOAA is addressing climate change, along with a report released by her agency in June called “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.”

While I was disappointed that the climate report did not include more about the growing concerns related to chemical changes off the coasts of Washington and Oregon, Lubchenco stated clearly in this interview that she believes more research is needed regarding ocean acidification:

“The oceans are indeed becoming more acidic, as a result of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and that acidity represents a very real threat to much of the life in oceans, ranging from the smallest microscopic plants, to coral reefs, to things that form shells — mussels, oysters, clams — but even things like lobsters and crabs.

“We’ve only begun to scratch the surface in terms of really understanding the full range of the impacts of ocean acidification, and it also affects physiology, not just the making of shells and skeletons.”

Specifically about the Pacific Northwest:

“NOAA has been in the forefront in the research on ocean acidification, and is working in close collaboration with the leading academics on this issue. And we have identified the urgent need to have more instruments in the water tracking and measuring the changes that are underway, so we can better understand the dynamics. And, as you point out, along the West Coast where there is upwelling, there appears to be an area that is already significantly affected, and we’re seeing much greater changes than I think anyone anticipated.

“They’re seeing very low pH levels and the other chemistry that goes along with that, it’s not simply a matter of pH. There are other chemical changes in the ocean water that affect plants and animals, and the rate at which they can make shells, or the rate at which shells are dissolved.

“I just learned today of some very interesting work being done by NOAA and some academic scientists looking at some deep-sea volcanoes in the western Pacific where there is carbon dioxide that is bubbling up from beneath the ocean, and likely causing lower pH in the immediate vicinity of the areas where the bubbles are emerging. And so there are places where it is possible to investigate the consequences of lower pH on the immediate biota in the area. But setting that aside, I think there is great urgency in significantly ramping up research monitoring and research programs on ocean acidification.”

I believe you may find the entire interview worth reading. As an environmental reporter, I think it will be important to follow how research dollars will be spent in the Northwest to investigate these potential life-and-death changes.

President Obama raises ocean issues to a high priority

President Obama is being praised for his decision to pull together all the ocean-related challenges this nation faces and for plotting a unified course of action.

On Friday, the president issued a memorandum calling for a task force to develop a national ocean policy along with a “framework” for action and a set of objectives. See the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, along with a news story by reporter Doug Palmer of Reuters.

I was tempted to state cynically that actions speak louder than words, so we should curb our enthusiasm about what can be done to save the oceans. But then I talked to Bill Ruckelshaus, who co-chairs the Joint Ocean Commission, a national group dedicated to this topic.

Ruckelshaus seems to be thrilled with this latest development, following years of failed promises from the Bush administration.

“This is quite a significant event, really,” Bill told me. “It moves the oceans up on the presidential agenda, which means they will get more attention from Congress and from agencies in the administration. Presidencies are all about setting agendas, and this means more attention will be paid to the recommendations we made.”

I’ll tell you a little more about what my conversation with Mr. Ruckelshaus, but first I’ll review the history.

Five years ago, similar praise was accorded to President Bush after the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy — a presidentially appointed body — released it’s comprehensive examination of the major problems facing the oceans. The report included a list of potential solutions.

Adm. James D. Watkins, a retired Navy officer who chaired the commission, expressed enthusiasm for the reception he felt the report was getting from the Bush administration.

“President Bush’s response to the Commission’s Report and his signing of Executive Order establishing a Secretarial-level Committee on Ocean Policy … sets into motion the important process of developing and implementing a new national ocean policy,” Watkins declared.

Despite the positive reaction, I don’t believe a whole lot came about. (Review the last three “report cards.”) A separate report written by the Pew Oceans Commission received even less attention.

After the two commissions dissolved, some members — including Ruckelshaus — moved into a new organization called the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a nongovernmental group that maintained pressure for action through annual “report cards” relating the progress, or lack thereof, on ocean issues.

In April of this year, the joint commission issued an urgent new report called “Changing Oceans, Changing World: Ocean Priorities for the Obama Administration and Congress” (PDF 280 kb). I outlined that report in a Water Ways entry on April 7.

And so now we come to today, five months into the new administration, which seems to be trying to do everything at once. Can there really be much energy left for a discussion about the oceans?

Bill Ruckelshaus is undaunted. “I think holding back and doing things one at a time just doesn’t work,” he said. “You have to act while the energy is there.”

Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Nixon, now chairs the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership, where he is heading the effort to reverse the degradation of our inland waterways.

President Bush created the U.S. Commission on Oceans, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But pulling all the environmental agencies together and getting Congress to focus on budgets, regulations and international treaties just never came to pass.

Why is Obama’s action different?

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Joint Ocean Commission issues ‘urgent’ recommendations

Bill Ruckelshaus and David Dicks, major figures in the Puget Sound Partnership, are in Washington, D.C., today with a delegation calling on top federal officials to take action on ocean issues.

commission

Among others, they are meeting with Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ruckelshaus, a member of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, told me four years ago that the oceans are so important that he would never give up working to invigorate the nation’s laid-back approach to ocean issues.

I heard a similar commitment from retired Navy Adm. James D. Watkins, who now heads the Joint Ocean Commission — a consolidation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission.

Today, the Joint Ocean Commission released an “urgent set of recommendations” that includes 20 “priority actions needed for improving ocean and coastal policy and management, bolstering international leadership, strengthening ocean science and funding ocean and coastal policies and programs.”

The recommendations, to be sure, are not much different from separate reports issued by the two commissions in 2004.

Watkins stated in a press release (PDF 48 kb):

“Our continuing complacency in the face of rising threats to the health and economic viability of our oceans and coasts from climate change, pollution and intense coastal development is no longer tolerable. Unless we commit to advancing our understanding, management and conservation of oceans and coasts, I am afraid the result will be enduring, and perhaps irreversible, changes that will jeopardize their contributions to this and future generations.”

Ruckelshaus, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in the press release:

“Our oceans and coasts together are one of the biggest drivers of the U.S. economy. Improvements in ocean policy are absolutely critical if we are to restore the economy anytime soon.”

The Joint Ocean Commission released a report today titled “Changing Oceans, Changing World: Ocean Priorities for the Obama Administration and Congress” (PDF 280 kb).

A summary of the 20 recommendations:

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Obama’s people should spark interest in science issues

Two individuals were confirmed this week to key positions related to the future of our natural resources, our natural systems and our “water ways.”

They are Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and John Holdren, White House director of science policy.

The confirmation of former Washington governor Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce — another vital position — moved a step toward confirmation.

We can look forward to all three generating some interesting developments that we will follow on this blog during their time in office.

I liked what Lubchenco told Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin: “Good government depends on good science, but the role of science is to inform, not to dictate policy decisions. These decisions will take into account economics, politics and social values, and that’s the way it is.”

Lubchenco plans to move quickly to set up a new National Climate Service, akin to the National Weather Service.

“NOAA has a key role to play in providing the fundamental knowledge about the climate system, providing data as to how the system is changing and taking all of that information and providing it in a way that’s easy to understand in order to make decisions,” she told Elperin.

Holdren has been called a “chronic alarmist” by William Yeatman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (PDF 416 kb), and he may well be. But, honestly, I’m looking forward to someone who can stir the pot a little bit.

No, we don’t want someone working as science adviser who exaggerates the realities of climate change. But plenty of people are around to make sure Holdren is standing on solid ground as he struggles with the political realities of getting things done in Washington, D.C.

For a dose of his style, check out this You Tube video of his talk at the John F. Kennedy forum at Harvard in November 2007.

Finally, this week, Locke sailed through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where Sen. John D “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.), praised Locke for being a man of the people.

“The people deserve to know that the person working with Congress and this committee every day, to determine the best way to reboot this economy, is a person who – simply put – gets it,” Rockefeller said. “Governor Locke gets it. He understands what is happening on Main Street. He was a governor. He is a civil servant. He is a man with his finger on the pulse of what direction America must head toward in generations to come.”

Locke now heads for a vote before the full Senate.