Feb
11
2009

Changing chemistry and rising levels: Is trouble on the horizon for world's oceans?
Changing chemistry and rising levels: Is trouble on the horizon for world's oceans?Courtesy Mark Ryan
Two recent stories in the news highlight environmental issues with Earth’s oceans. The first deals with how the oceans’ pH levels are changing at a much faster rate than normally due to increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The second concerns the rise of sea levels due to climate change.

With the first story, Prince Albert II of Monaco and over 150 marine scientists are urging world policymakers to confront the problem of ocean acidification. They stated their concerns in the Monaco Declaration, a document that arose from the 2nd International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World held in Monaco last October.

According to the Monaco Declaration, the rapid change in seawater chemistry is already measurable and could by mid-century cause oceans to become inhospitable to coral reefs, inhibit calcification in mussels, plankton, and other calcifying organisms, and subsequently harm the fish population to the extent of causing massive deficits in the food source for millions of people.

The world’s oceans have long acted as buffers against CO2 - absorbing up to a third of it - but are now straining to keep up with rising levels of the greenhouse gas. When CO2 dissolves in seawater it causes pH levels to drop, resulting in a more acidic chemistry. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution, and in recent years, researchers at Scripps Oceanography have recorded a drop in the pH from 8.16 to 8.05

The declaration warns that only a serious and immediate reduction in CO2 levels will reverse ocean acidification.

You can find more info at the following links:

Story at Sciencedaily.com
The Ocean Acidification Network
EPOCA's blog on Ocean Acidification

In the second story, the rise of sea levels due to climate change may actually be a greater threat than previously thought. The potential for rising water from melting ice sheets is not news. Earlier studies have predicted rising ocean levels from the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet and other ice could, by the end of the century, inundate coastal cities and low-lying areas with up to 3 feet of water.

But previously unrecognized factors are ratcheting up the severity of that number. Authors of a new study say related events triggered by the initial ice melt could cause the sea-levels to rise as much as 21 feet. But it’s really more of a “could happen” rather than a “will happen” situation.

Geophysicist Jerry X. Mitrovica (University of Toronto) and geoscientist Peter Clark (Oregon State) predict not only would the melted ice add more water to the oceans, but also the reduced gravitational pull from the melted (and missing) ice sheet could cause the Antarctic water levels to decrease while northern water levels increased. Also, once the weight of the heavy ice sheet was gone the Antarctic land mass would rebound, pushing more water outward. Finally, the redistribution of water could cause a shift in the Earth’s rotation and potentially push more water northward toward highly populated coastal regions.

University of Toronto physics grad student Natalya Gomez also contributed to the study that appears in the journal Science.

LINKS
USA Today story
Voice of America news story
Rising sea levels at NASA site

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How do scientists plan to stop this pH ocean catastrophe?

posted on Fri, 02/13/2009 - 4:15pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Interesting, given how southern sea ice is is at an all-time high and land-based ice in Antarctica is growing. Ice is melting from the Antarctic peninsula, the warmest part of the continent, and the part that is easiest to reach and to study. The rest of the area has recently seen increases in ice levels.

posted on Fri, 02/13/2009 - 5:38pm
Will R.'s picture
Will R. says:

That is interesting!

But do you mean "interesting because this contradictory thing is also happening"? Because it looks like the original post is really about something different.

This is very complicated, isn't it?

Does anyone know how ice is proportioned in Antarctica? Is it pretty even? Or is the chunk of ice people are concerned about a very significant portion of Antarctic ice compared with the southern and inland ice mentioned above? Cuz if someone said 75% of my toes would melt off in the next 20 years, that would be band, but not as bad as if someone said that 75% of my torso would melt away in the next 20 years.

posted on Fri, 02/13/2009 - 7:49pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I was responding to the second half of the original post, about ice in Antarctica.

Antarctica is about 5.4 million square miles. I couldn't find any figures for the size of the Antarctic Peninsula, but measuring the difference between the latitude of its tip and the latitude of its base tells us it's about 900 miles long. And slapping a ruler down on my atlas tells me it varies in width from about 30 miles to about 190 miles. Let's call it an average of 100, for a total area in the neighborhood of 90,000 square miles. That's 1.6% of the land area.

To use an imprecise analogy: if a 200-pound man went on a reasonable diet and exercised, he could lose 1.6% of his body weight -- about three pounds -- in a week or so.

But, while the peninsula holds roughly 1.6% of the continent's area, it probably holds far less of its ice. It is the warmest part of the continent, and parts of it are ice-free year-round. So it most likely holds significantly less than 1.6% of Antarctica's ice.

posted on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 11:50pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I note that you only cite other bloggers not original souces.

posted on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 4:39pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

It’s been over four years since blogs proved their mettle as being capable of producing accurate, trustworthy reportage and analysis. The bloggers in question have appropriate backgrounds, do cite original sources, and interpret the data for the general public.

The first blog I cite is run by Steven McIntyre, a mathematician and geologist who helped discredit the infamous “hockey stick” graph of historical temperatures. McIntrye cites data from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) compiled by the University of Colorado.

The second blog is run by ICECAP, the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Program, and one of the more strained acronyms you’ll find outside of a Dan Savage column. They list 38 principal contributors, most if not all of whom appear to be doctors, professors, and current or former research scientists. They also list 58 “members,” most of whom appear to be meteorologists. The post I lined to cites cryospheric data collected by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a lovely campus I know well. They also link to a report of a paper presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference.

posted on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 11:13pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

If you read the post you'll see a link right to the Monaco Declaration for the first story, and to the on-line version of the journal Science (where the study appeared) for the second.

posted on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 5:05pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Did you know if you add diet Coke and Mentos it fomes up and explodes almost instantly! Also if you put Coke in your toilet, it will be thuroughly cleaned becaus it so so acidic it breaks down the nasty materials in the toilet. :)

posted on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 3:41pm

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