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Reports: Ocean Acidification Heats Planet, Changes Ecosystems

Two new studies showcase the greater dangers of rising ocean temperatures.

The first, in the journal Nature Climate Change, finds rising carbon dioxide levels that make oceans more acidic can also raise global temperatures. The authors find ocean acidification would lead certain marine organisms to emit less of the sulphur compounds that help with cloud formations that cool Earth. When the data were fed into climate models, the authors estimated reduction of this compound could add nearly 0.5 degrees Celsius to global temperatures this century.

A second paper in the same journal focuses on how acidification will change marine ecosystems. The authors looked at 167 studies on more than 150 species under a wide range of carbon dioxide concentrations.

“Our study showed that all animal groups we considered are affected negatively by higher carbon dioxide concentrations,” said study co-author Astrid Wittmann. “Corals, echinoderms and molluscs above all react very sensitively to a decline in pH value.”

Seas are naturally slightly alkaline, but pH levels fall as oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The research is expected to be included in the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth Assessment Report on climate science. An early leaked draft of the U.N. report shows ocean temperatures rose more than 0.18 degrees Fahrenheit each decade of the last 40 years (through 2010).

McCabe Could Be Next EPA Air Chief

Janet McCabe, a deputy administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s clean-air office, is expected to be nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the office, the National Journal reports. If selected, McCabe would spearhead efforts to craft new pollution regulations for the nation’s coal-fired power plants, which she discusses in a recent EPA webinar. Timing of an announcement regarding a nomination, however, was unclear to sources (subscription).

Keystone XL Decision in Danger of Delay

Results of an investigation into conflict of interest complaints related to the Keystone XL pipeline may not be released until early 2014. The announcement by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) means a final decision on the project could be delayed until next year.

“It is our hope to conclude work by the end of the year and release a report in January,” said Douglas Welty, an OIG spokesman. “As to the timing of the department’s decision—you need to ask them directly whether our work will have an impact on that.”

A story in the National Journal suggests one portion of the pipeline—proposed back in 2008—may have become obsolete.

“They just waited too long. The industry is very innovative, and it finds other ways of doing it and other routes,” said Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm, of the portion of the pipeline that would carry oil from fields in North Dakota to Montana.

Climate Change Considerations in Wake of Sandy

A presidential task force created after Hurricane Sandy has issued a 200-page report with 69 policy recommendations to promote stronger construction as climate change contributes to more intense storms and extreme heat. Among other actions, it calls for more advanced energy infrastructure and streamlined assistance for affected communities.

“Decision makers at all levels must recognize that climate change and the resulting increase in risks from extreme weather have eliminated the option of simply building back to outdated standards and expecting better outcomes after the next extreme event,” the report says.

It includes a 15-page section dedicated to threats due to climate change. Many of the initiatives suggested to deal with these threats, such as a minimum flood risk standard, have already been put into action (subscription).

Meanwhile, House Republicans are planning a hearing on the White House’s climate change agenda with leaders of 13 federal agencies next month. It is expected to touch on the science underpinning global climate change.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Comments

  1. Oscar
    San Francisco
    September 4, 2013, 2:33 am

    We often hear about the impact of acidification on the vitality of marine organisms (eg coral bleaching), but we don’t often hear about how the health of these organisms in turn affects the ecosystem around them. Fascinated to learn that reduced emission of sulfur compounds by these organisms has atmospheric effects.

    On a related note, I was also thrilled to see that researchers at Scripps are getting high school students involved in hands-on ocean acidification work. Check it out here: https://www.microryza.com/projects/ocean-acidification-lab-kits-student-scientists-saving-the-world