November 15, 2013

Ocean Acidity to Skyrocket - Reduce CO2 Now!

A group of 'experts' have noted the obvious and agreed on 'levels of confidence' in relation to ocean acidification. They have issued statements summarizing a state of knowledge that is so conservative as to be counterproductive in the struggle to create awareness of the dire future that lurks around the corner if we don't act now.

The summary was led by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and results from the world's largest gathering of experts on ocean acidification ever convened. The Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World was held in Monterey, California (September 2012), and attended by 540 experts from 37 countries. The summary will be launched at the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Warsaw, 18 November, for the benefit of policymakers who want support for a measured response and continued rush to planetary destruction.

The 'experts' concluded that marine ecosystems and biodiversity are likely to change as a result of ocean acidification, even though they have already been changing rapidly. They also came up with a brilliant theory that ocean acidification will have far-reaching consequences for society and that economic losses from declines in shellfish aquaculture and the degradation of tropical coral reefs may be substantial owing to the sensitivity of mollusks and corals to ocean acidification, which is also already occurring.

One of the lead authors of the summary, and chair of the symposium, Ulf Riebesell of GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel said: "What we can now say with high levels of confidence about ocean acidification sends a clear message. Globally we have to be prepared for significant economic and ecosystem service losses. But we also know that reducing the rate of carbon dioxide emissions will slow acidification. That has to be the major message for the COP19 meeting."

One outcome emphasized by the 'experts' is that if society continues on the current high emissions trajectory, cold water coral reefs, located in the deep sea, may be unsustainable and tropical coral reef erosion is likely to outpace reef building this century, which has already happened in many areas.

The really boneheaded statement by the 'experts' is that significant emissions reductions to meet the two-degree target by 2100 could ensure that half of surface waters presently occupied by tropical coral reefs remain favorable for their growth. Which is not even remotely true. C02 levels will have to drop back to 350 ppm for ocean-life to have any chance of avoiding massive destruction and even then it is unlikely that the oceans can be saved because it takes so long for the carbon dioxide to cycle out of the atmosphere and oceans.

Author Wendy Broadgate, Deputy Director at the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, wisely said: "Emissions reductions may protect some reefs and marine organisms but we know that the ocean is subject to many other stresses such as warming, deoxygenation, pollution and overfishing. Warming and deoxygenation are also caused by rising carbon dioxide emissions, underlining the importance of reducing fossil fuel emissions. Reducing other stressors such as pollution and overfishing, and the introduction of large scale marine protected areas, may help build some resilience to ocean acidification."

The summary for policymakers makes 21 statements about ocean acidification with a range of confidence levels from "very high" to "low".

These include:

Very high confidence

  • Ocean acidification is caused by carbon dioxide emissions from human activity to the atmosphere that end up in the ocean.

  • The capacity of the ocean to act as a carbon sink decreases as it acidifies

  • Reducing carbon dioxide emissions will slow the progress of ocean acidification.

  • Anthropogenic ocean acidification is currently in progress and is measurable

  • The legacy of historical fossil fuel emissions on ocean acidification will be felt for centuries.

High confidence 

  • If carbon dioxide emissions continue on the current trajectory, coral reef erosion is likely to outpace reef building some time this century.

  • Cold-water coral communities are at risk and may be unsustainable.

  • Mollusks (such as mussels, oysters and pteropods) are one of the groups most sensitive to ocean acidification.

  • The varied responses of species to ocean acidification and other stressors are likely to lead to changes in marine ecosystems, but the extent of the impact is difficult to predict.

  • Multiple stressors compound the effects of ocean acidification. 

Medium confidence

  • Negative socio-economic impacts on coral reefs are expected, but the scale of the costs is uncertain.

  • Declines in shellfisheries will lead to economic losses, but the extent of the losses is uncertain.

  • Ocean acidification may have some direct effects on fish behaviour and physiology.

  • The shells of marine snails known as pteropods, an important link in the marine food web, are already dissolving.

The summary is disappointing to many because it merely states the obvious and is another example of scientific caution muting the vital information that humanity needs to alter its path away from extinction. It is time for scientists to start showing some leadership and not water down the facts, linear data projections and logical assumptions. Even the most bold statements about climate change are proving to be wildly off the mark. Many predictions made a few years ago for decades into the future are happening now.