Killing the Oceans With Carbon Dioxide

Even If There Were “No such Thing” As Global Warming, the Acidification of the Oceans Is A Mega Crisis In It’s Own Right

Melting Sea StarsIt’s Not a Problem For the Future, It’s a Problem for the Now

“Under business as usual, by mid-century things are looking rather grim…I mean, they’re looking grim already.”
- Atmospheric Scientist Ken Caldeira quoted in Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction.”

Man is pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere like there is no tomorrow, and there might not be, at least for a lot of seafood species. Whether you “believe” in global warming or not, believe this: The oceans are absorbing CO2 at an unprecedented rate, a process that has already tipped the pH levels from neutral to acidic. Unlike the complexities of climate science, this set of data is easily measurable. Carbon dioxide content is over 400 ppm and rising quickly. There is more CO2 in the atmosphere than in the past 15 million years. The speed with it is increasing quarantees that species will not have time adjust.

Likewise, pH levels are at 8.0  and falling quickly. That process is changing the chemistry of the water. Globally, coral reefs are retreating and dying. A die off of mollusks, crustaceans, pteropods has already begun.

In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, coral area has declined by half in the past thirty years and the same situation is echoed to varying degrees around the planet. The process is simple and irreversible at this point. Increased levels of CO2 changes the calcium carbonate saturation levels of the water, preventing the coral animals from building new reefs. The loss of the beauty and diversity of the many coral species will be devastating in an aesthetic sense, but that is almost beside the point. Hundreds of species of marine life depend on this critical ecosystem for habitat.

In much the same way, CO2 is corrosive to the shells and exoskeletons of a wide range of marine life. Oyster larvae and other mollusks are having difficulty forming shells. The oyster business in the Pacific Northwest is in serious trouble, with tens of millions of dollars and livelihoods at stake. When the professional liars tell you that cutting CO2 emissions will cost jobs, they forget to mention the jobs already in jeopardy. Less picturesque species such as pteropods are now beginning the show the effects of lowered pH count in the waters.

Calcifying organisms are not the only types of marine species affected by changing ocean chemistry. Red alga such as Neosiphonia harveyi (Rhodophyta) likes the change in pH that mankind is providing because it increases its rate of photosynthesis.

Six months ago, we reported on an underwater epidemic that was killing off the sea stars along the west coast. Nobody paid much attention then, but they are beginning to pay attention now…at least on the west coast. Sea Star Wasting Syndrome started first appeared in Washington state and British Columbia, but has now spread north to Alaska and is now showing up in Oregon. This disagreeable affliction proceeds like this: First, white lesions appear on the starfish. They become infected and the starfish soon becomes limp. Sometimes the arms fall off and try to crawl away from the dying body. But on this planet’ there’s no where left to hide.

Melting starfish is one more symptom of a sickness that is turning the oceans into a toxic soup, but there are others. As the waters warm, they are able to hold less oxygen, which will reduced the size of fish in general and the cause enormous drops in commercial fishing harvests. Another economic blow not mentioned by the fossil fuel pimps.* Oh, an about half the world’s population gets 20% of more of their protein requirements from fish. But a big Mac is fine too.

Wherever you look, if you pay attention, signs of the ocean’s rapid decline are apparent. Mass Sea lions mortality has become an an annual event as hundreds of sea lions was ashore sick or dead. The usual suspects are in play: pollution, runoff, microplastic, oil spills, bottom trawling, seabed mining, overfishing, invasive species and so on.

However powerful those other causes turn out to be, there is not doubt that once the pH count drops to 7.8, things are going to get nasty.**

*The only jobs that matter are dirty energy jobs.
**Like the Richter Scale, pH is a logarithmic scale. Small numerical changes are amplified.

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