Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

Fossil Fuel and the State of the Ocean

7/16/2011 4:40:04 PM

Tags: fossil fuel, carbon overload, global warming, ocean acidification, coral reef bleaching, Richard Hilderman

Ocean WavesEarlier this year the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) convened a workshop of marine scientists to consider the impact of multiple stressors such as warming, acidification and overfishing of the ocean. The scientists concluded that a mass extinction of ocean species will occur if the damage to the ecosystem continues to escalate!  Two of the findings which we will discuss were:

1. The ocean is currently absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than at the time of the last mass extinction millions of years ago.

2. A single mass coral bleaching event in 1998 killed 16 percent of the world’s tropical coral reefs.

In this posting we will discuss how the burning of fossil fuel is changing the “State of the Ocean.” Our burning of fossil fuel has created an overload of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (my posting entitled “Fossil Fuel and Atmospheric Levels of Carbon Dioxide”). The ocean is becoming more acidic because atmospheric carbon dioxide overload is dropping more carbon dioxide into the ocean (my posting entitled “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels and Ocean Acidification”). 

The atmospheric carbon dioxide overload has also triggered an increase in global temperature (my posting entitled Solar Activity, Greenhouse Gas Levels and Climate Change on our Earth). Rising ocean water temperature is killing the coral reef! Coral reefs are colonial animals and individual coral animals are called polyps. Large number of these polyps grow together into delicately branched colonies. Within the tissue of the polyps are single cell algae called zooxanthellae that require light for photosynthesis. Polyps and zooxanthellae have a symbiotic relationship in which the coral provides the algae with a protected environment and carbon dioxide which the algal cells photosynthesize to generate oxygen and nutrients for the polyps. Coral bleaching or reef death occurs when the zooxanthellae die as the ocean temperature rises.  This is deadly not only to the coral but also to young fish and marine life that depend on the coral reef for protection and food. It is estimated that one in every four species in the ocean depends on the coral reef for at least part of their life cycle. Bleaching has wiped out at least half of the coral in the Florida Keys and bleached corals have recently been found as far north as Charleston SC.

The ocean ecosystem is already under tremendous stress. If we continue “business as usual” in our use of fossil fuel the increase in ocean acidification along with the increase in water temperature will put additional strains on the ocean ecosystem. These additional strains could trigger a total collapse of the ecosystem killing off species in a mass extinction that hasn’t been seen in millions of years. As one member of the IPSO workshop appropriately put it “If the Ocean goes down, it’s game over.” The choice is ours! Continue use of fossil fuel or convert to noncarbon based renewable energy sources.

Photo Credit: Fotolia

 



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Post a comment below.

 

Richard Hilderman, Ph.D.
8/1/2011 9:27:29 PM
Kirt,It is really sad when people like can't accept the data of expert scientists who have dedicated their live to make the world a better place for all of us. The coral reefs are dying! Click on the State of the Ocean link in my blog--As stated in my posting this is the International Programme on the State of the Ocean and these scientists are the experts who are stating the coral reefs are dying. What scientific evidence can you give us that states that the coral reefs are recovering at a faster rate than they are dying (I would appreciate references which I can review). In terms of the White Cliff of Dover---yes it is true that carbon dioxide formed the basis of the Cliffs--as I stated in my comment to tbrandt the Cliffs are made up of deep sea ooze of various marine organisms and carbon dioxide made up the skeleton and cellular components of these organisms. I don't understand how carbon dioxide becoming part of Cliff significes the folly of ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is occuring because we are pumping excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and a lot of this atmospheric carbon dioxide enters the ocean--ocean acidification is occuring because the ocean can't accumulate (into organisms) all this excess carbon dioxide and this lowers the ocean pH! You and your wife maybe laughing now but as our planet becomes a more hostile place due to our continued use of fossil fuel I doubt your grandchildren and great grandchildren will be laughing.

Kirt Griffin
7/31/2011 1:39:43 PM
Hi Tbrandt,Great comment. Too bad the good doctor missed the point. Hint: Mark Twain never made a direct comment about reefs. The major reefs are recovering. Their demise has been overestimated. Also, CO2 formed the basis of the white cliffs which stand as testament to the folly of ocean acidification. My wife and I got a big laugh out of that one. Actually, I appologise for ruining your tongue in cheek comment, but it blew past Dr. Hilderman so fast he never even saw it. Kirt Griffin, Moderator, Solar On-line forum for Solar Scientists, "It's the Sun"

Richard Hilderman, Ph.D.
7/19/2011 2:02:54 PM
tbrandt--I think Mark Twain's paraphrase is meaningless because when he made the statement he didn't have the scientific evidence that we have today. In terms of the White Cliffs of Dover--they are made up of deep-sea oozes (forms of biogenous sediment-contain the remains of some of the ocean's most abundant and important organisms). The Cliffs were uplifted by geological processes and are now visible as land.

t brandt
7/18/2011 9:55:17 PM
http://www.springerlink.com/content/d26482744h00ju74/ To paraphrase Mark Twain, the decline of coral reefs has been greatly exaggerated. And in regards to the ocean absorbing co2, perhaps you can elaborate on where the White Cliffs of Dover came from?

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