Ocean Acidification: A Common Cause and a Common Concern for Norway and Canada

September 23rd, 2014, By Mona Elisabeth Brother, The Huffington Post Canada

 

As nations of seafarers and fishermen, Norwegians and Canadians have lived in close contact with the ocean throughout history. We have reaped its benefits and weathered its storms. Healthy oceans are key to a healthy future for us peoples of the North.

The oceans are facing many challenges. A third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished or depleted. Marine litter kills a million seabirds every year, and ocean acidification is putting entire marine ecosystems at risk.

Under the umbrella of the Arctic Council and during the Canadian chair, acidification of the seas has come forward as a central theme. The working group AMAP presented in 2013 a thorough report on this issue, based on science from a wide range of countries, Arctic and non- Arctic stakeholders. This report in its turn, form the background for the Arctic Council’s present work on these extremely important issue.

Some of the facts are appalling. Acidification is taking place at a speed unforeseen by scientists only a decade ago. In addition, it is taking place over a wide range of ocean depths; most rapidly in surface waters and more slowly in deeper waters. For example, notable chemical effects have for example been found in surface waters of the Bering Strait and the Canada Basin of the central Arctic Ocean.

The primary driver of ocean acidification is uptake of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by human activities, specifically when burning carbon-rich materials such as coal or oil. Some of this gas is absorbed by the oceans, slowing down its build-up in the atmosphere and thus the pace of human-induced climate warming, but at the same time increasing seawater activity. As a result, the average acidity of surface ocean waters worldwide is now about 30 per cent higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

The Arctic Ocean is especially vulnerable to ocean acidification; due to the large quantities of freshwater supplied from rivers and melting ice, this part of the ocean is less effective at chemically neutralizing the acidifying effects. The cold waters also favour the transfer of carbon dioxide from the air into the ocean, and the recent and dramatic melting of the ice decreases the summer sea-ice cover.

Sea-ice cover, freshwater inputs, and plant growth and decay can also influence the state of the oceans, varying over seasons, place to place, and year to year.

Arctic marine ecosystems are highly likely to undergo significant change due to these changes, scientists find. Precise data on effects on species in the top of the food chains, as sea birds and seals, and bottom animals like sea stars and urchins, are needed, and underway, for the Arctic region. Growth rates, behaviour, shell formation and growth studies show that many species will grow slower under predicted rates of acidification. Some shell-building are likely to react negatively, and fish eggs and early larval stages are sensitive to changes. Fisheries might be affected, but which changes we can foresee, are uncertain. Fish stocks may be more robust to acidification if other stresses — for example, overfishing or habitat degradation — are minimized.

The only way to fight ocean acidification is through a reduction in the global level of CO2 emissions. It is vital for Norway and other key players that the climate summit in Paris next year is successful. Norway is committed to the process and to achieving an ambitious outcome as we work towards the two-degree target and a low carbon society.

Norway and Canada, together with the other members of the Arctic Council, recognized in the Kiruna Declaration that carbon dioxide emission reductions are the only effective way to mitigate ocean acidification, and agreed to take action to this effect, and monitor and assess the state of the Arctic Ocean.

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Desperately Seeking a Rapid-Onset Response to a Slow-Onset Event – The Case of Ocean Acidification

International Institute for Sustainable Development. May 19th, 2014. By David Osborn, Director, Environment Laboratory, IAEA


I last wrote an article for this bulletin in July 2009 (Guest article #17). On that occasion, I reflected on the immense expectations surrounding the climate negotiations in Copenhagen and the need to ‘Seal the Deal.’ I can see many of you holding back a wry smile as you remember that ambitious campaign so soon forgotten.

Back in those heady days of hope and anticipation, amid all the noise and distraction, I highlighted the pressing need to not forget the changing ocean. I invited governments to acknowledge the impact of climate change on the ocean and find ways to proactively ensure its resilience. Longing for a rapid onset of reform, I called for an ‘ocean of change’ that would finally recognise the centrality and criticality of ocean health to both mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

Alas, my hopes for a tsunami of reform – while not altogether in vain – were far from realised. Now in 2014, as ambition and hope again escalate in the recycled world of climate change negotiations, like an undefeatable phoenix the plight of the world’s coasts and oceans must once again be thrust to the fore to ensure their centrality in the solution is not overlooked.

Key among the myriad of challenges facing the marine environment is the slow-onset phenomenon known as ocean acidification. As atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration climbs, ocean pH falls. It’s that simple. Falling pH in turn makes it harder for marine life to capture carbonates and fix calcium to build shells and skeletons. It may be a death sentence for many species, particularly those where calcification is a part of their early life cycle. The impacts of ocean acidification will be felt at the microscopic scale, e.g. calcifying plankton, through to the habitat scale, e.g. coral reefs. The implications for the marine food webs and the provision of ecosystem services are potentially catastrophic with extinctions in the next 50-200 years being a very realistic scenario.

Clearly, more and accelerated science is urgently needed. In this regard, I am pleased to report that the Environment Laboratories of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Monaco are making this issue a focus of their work, using for example, radio-isotopes of calcium to better understand the past, present and future impacts of ocean acidification. This includes observing physiological and ecological effects under different climate change scenarios. In an effort to improve collaboration and shared learning, the laboratories operate the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC). This is currently funded by the Peaceful Uses Initiative of the IAEA; however the urgent need for expanded research, data generation and knowledge products far outweighs the resources that are currently available.

The challenge of addressing ocean acidification is a cross-cutting one, relevant to the three dimensions of the ongoing climate change negotiations: mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.

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Workshop Offers Look at Grays Harbor of the Future

The Daily World, April 10th, 2014. By Brionna Friedrich

A workshop Tuesday on ocean acidification and rising sea levels offered a peek into Grays Harbor’s potential future, and aimed to start a conversation about turning the challenges of climate change into opportunities.

Brad Warren, director of Global Ocean Health, said he hopes to change the way people think about climate change.

“The language is loss, ‘We’re going to lose this much land,’ ” Warren said. “Well, if you look at this from the ocean point of view, which is where a fair number of people around here make a living, there’s going to be a fair number of opportunities there.”

That change may prove to be a challenge of its own. About 30 people attended the workshop, mostly agency officials joined by a few interested residents and local policymakers. Nearly all had ideas, concerns and questions about climate change, but few were ready to focus on the suggestion of creating new industries, like harvesting underwater plants.

“It’s a beginning. And that’s probably enough,” Warren said. “It will be really interesting to come back and track this conversation as it matures over time. I think it’s really clear that people are ready to think hard about sea level rise, and that’s pretty complicated by itself. And there’s a lot of resistance to thinking about how it interacts with another complicated process” like ocean acidification.

Todd Sandell of the Wild Fish Conservancy offered one tool in increasing that understanding locally. He and Andrew McAninch were initially only researching data on juvenile salmon habitat in the Grays Harbor area.

“It became rapidly apparent … that the elephant in the room that people weren’t really talking about is sea level rise,” Sandell said. “That’s going to undermine a lot of the work that’s been done over past decades, putting in tide gates and things like that.”

In 2012, the conservancy used lidar data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a better model of what climate change could look like on the Harbor.

Sandell and McAninch modeled out to 2100. Compared to Grays Harbor in 1981, when modeling started, the 2100 Grays Harbor will lose 83 percent of its mud flats, have 2.4 times the salt marsh and six times as much irregularly flooded marsh area. Traditional marsh will be 26 times larger.

Forested swamp land showed a 97 percent reduction as a result of sea level rise, Sandell said. Goose and Sand islands would be completely underwater.

Sandell said as salt water penetrates deeper and deeper into the Harbor and into the sloughs, trees may die because they can’t tolerate the salinity. That may lead to further collapse during flooding.

In Willapa Harbor, Sandell said the numerous dikes might lead to good habitats for various sea creatures that like shallow water for about 25 years. After that, he said, the dikes will create more problems than they solve.

“That’s one of the reasons you can’t just build a bunch of dikes and say, ‘We won’t move an inch,’ ” Sandell said. “I wouldn’t want to fight the ocean that much.”

One of the challenges in getting a clear picture of what the Twin Harbors might look like with rising oceans is limited by data. Scientists don’t have a clear picture of what the underwater landscape looks like.

Sandell said the model they used has a vertical error of one to three meters, meaning the elevations they used for their modeling could have some significant variation from where the ground actually is. That translates to some potentially significant differences in the horizontal borders they project. Still, it’s a significant improvement in accuracy over previous models.

Getting clearer and clearer pictures of what’s happening to the habitat around us is the only way we’ll ever start to cope with the many and varied impacts of climate change, Warren said.

“I thought a really important thing somebody brought up today is that the perception of urgency is not really there, around either sea level rise or ocean acidification,” Warren said. “In order to get county governments to address this issue, when they can’t see their own interests at risk now, it’s a really important challenge. I would argue that the challenge there is not that there is no change affecting their interests, nor that that change is not urgent. It’s that we don’t have the observing systems in place to be able to see what’s happening to us.”

Coastline changes may actually present more opportunity for burying carbon.

About 0.5 percent of ocean area roughly matches the carbon absorption of all the world’s forests. Salt marsh buries 10 times as much carbon per acre every year than a Brazilian rainforest, Warren said.

In Asia, harvesting underwater plants that thrive in acidic water is already a $7 billion per year industry, cleaning the water at the same time.

With better information, policy makers will be able to take advantage of opportunities like that, using better planning for coastlines and flood plains.

“People are really intelligent when they can see what’s happening to them. We’re not very intelligent when we can’t see,” he added.

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Workshop Takes a Practical, Proactive Look at Ocean Acidification

The Daily World, April 5th, 2014. By Brionna Friedrich

The frightening impacts of a changing climate are sometimes unavoidable, but an upcoming workshop takes a proactive look at how to cope with changing coastlines and ocean chemistry.

“If we can snatch opportunity out of the jaws of climate change, we’ll be doing a smart thing,” said Eric Swenson, communications and outreach director of Global Ocean Health. “That’s a real message I hope resonates and people can act on. Can we benefit from the coming circumstances?”

The non-profit initiative focuses on the impacts of ocean acidification, the absorption of carbon dioxide into ocean waters, which is already impacting local industries like shellfish growers.

It specifically works with seafood producers and coastal communities on options for adaptation.

The free workshop, set for Tuesday in the Rotary Log Pavilion in Aberdeen, will connect climate change and ocean acidification experts with local and regional policymakers and the general public.

The morning session, from 9 a.m. to noon, will feature speakers on changing aquaculture and how marine plants and grasses can help absorb CO2.

Stephen Crooks, climate change program director for Environmental Services Associates, has recently briefed the White House and the United Nations on the impacts of estuary restoration, Swenson said. “Now he’ll be doing a briefing for the Washington coast in Aberdeen,” he said. “We’ve got some actual world-class folks on the agenda.”

Marine and coastal vegetation provides opportunities, from contributions to overall estuary health to a possible commercial enterprise, harvesting food and biofuel.

“This isn’t pie-in-the-sky, people are doing this and making money at it in Asia,” Swenson said.

It could also provide a tool for shellfish farmers. Acidic ocean waters can decimate delicate oyster larvae.

“If you can just move the meter a point or two in some key areas, it’s the difference between life and death,” Swenson said.

“There’s a fair amount of research that shows that when shellfish and seagrasses co-exist — the right kind of seagrasses — it’s to the benefit of both,” he continued.

“We will be looking at how plants sequester the carbon. The salt marsh plants, for instance, do a job that’s about five times as effective as a tropical forest, so photosynthesis can really be made to work for us.”

A free lunch will be offered before the afternoon session, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., which will discuss local planning and policy processes that can help in preparation for a changing coastline.

“We’re bringing (ocean acidificaton) into a wider context of what the coast is going to look at in 20, 30 or 40 or more years, and it’s going to be very different than what it is now,” Swenson said. “By trying to consider what the coastline is going to look like with the higher sea, we may be able to shelter shellfish, we may be able to protect our estuaries, which are such nurseries for a variety of sea life.”

“If we learn to plan for it well, sea level rise might be more than just a problem — which it certainly will be — but an opportunity,” Global Ocean Health Director Brad Warren wrote in a press release. “Higher water will make more room for estuarine ecosystems that can sometimes chemically shelter vulnerable larvae from corrosive waters. It won’t be a smooth transition, but sea level rise may open up new areas for farming shellfish and marketable marine macroalgae. It will increase coastal habitats that support hunting and fishing and expand the nursery grounds that support most of the world’s seafood supply.”

Some basic understanding of ocean acidification will help for those who attend the workshop, Swenson said, but scientific expertise isn’t a requirement.

“I think people who have at least a fundamental grasp of what we’re talking about will be better served by the meeting, but it is designed to be open to the public, free of charge, with that free lunch included, in an attempt to draw in people who want to learn more about this,” Swenson said.

The Rotary Log Pavilion is located at 1401 Sargent Blvd. in Aberdeen. No registration is required for the workshop.

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One of the Smartest Investments We Can Make

Ensia.com. By Jane Lubchenco and Mark Tercek, April 14th, 2014

For centuries, coastal wetlands were considered worthless. It’s time to acknowledge the environmental and economic value of restoring these ecosystems.

For the past 25 years, every U.S. president beginning with George H. W. Bush has upheld a straightforward, three-word policy for protecting the nation’s sensitive and valuable wetlands: No Net Loss. And for a quarter of a century, we have failed in this country to achieve even that simple goal along our coasts.

According to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States is losing coastal wetlands at the staggering rate of 80,000 acres per year. That means on average the equivalent of seven American football fields of these ecosystems disappear into the ocean every hour of every day. On top of that, we’re also losing vast expanses of sea-grass beds, oyster reefs and other coastal habitats that lie below the surface of coastal bays.


Rising sea levels make coastal wetlands increasingly important as a buffer from erosion. Under the right circumstances, wetlands are even capable of building up coastal lands.


This isn’t just an environmental tragedy; it’s also an economic one. Coastal wetlands and other coastal habitats provide buffers against storm surges, filter pollution, sequester carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change, and serve as nurseries to help replenish depleted fish, crab and shrimp populations. The result is reduced flooding, healthier waterways, and increased fishing and recreational opportunities. To reap these benefits, we must reverse the trend of coastal habitat loss and degradation by protecting remaining habitats and aggressively investing in coastal restoration.

The good news is that such investments can pay off handsomely. To determine the extent of the economic contributions of these fragile and fading ecosystems, the Center for American Progress and Oxfam America analyzed three of the 50 coastal restoration projects NOAA carried out with funding from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The results were very positive. All three sites — in San Francisco Bay; Mobile Bay, Ala.; and the Seaside Bays of Virginia’s Atlantic coast — showed strong average returns on the dollars invested.

Only part of this benefit came from construction jobs. Real, long-term benefits also accrued to coastal residents and industries in the form of increased property values and recreational opportunities, healthier fisheries, and better protection against inundation. Rising sea levels make coastal wetlands increasingly important as a buffer from erosion. Under the right circumstances, wetlands are even capable of building up coastal lands because they trap sediment coming downstream from rivers, creating new land where additional marsh vegetation can grow.

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Lawmakers Pass East Coast’s First Ocean Acidification Bill

Maine Insights, By Ramona Du Houx, April 18th, 2014

The Legislature on Thursday passed the East Coast’s first bill to address the threat of ocean acidification as the Senate gave the measure its final approval with a vote of 33-0. The bill, LD 1602, now goes to Gov. Paul LePage.

“Maine has the opportunity to lead on this issue,” said Rep. Mick Devin, the bill’s sponsor and a marine biologist. “The overwhelming support for my bill shows that Maine understands that ocean acidification is a real problem. It poses a threat to our coastal environment and the jobs that depend on it. We must address this threat head-on.”

The measure would establish a commission to study and address the negative effects of ocean acidification on the ecosystem and major inshore shellfisheries. The committee membership would be made up of stakeholders including fishermen, aquaculturists, scientists and legislators.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use are causing changes in ocean chemistry. As carbon dioxide and seawater combine, carbonic acid forms. Carbonic acid can dissolve the shells of shellfish, an important commercial marine resource. Over the past two centuries, ocean acidity levels have increased 30 percent.

If left unchecked, ocean acidification could cause major losses to shellfisheries like clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins and put at risk thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

Shellfish hatcheries on the West Coast have failed in recent years due to 60 to 80 percent production losses caused by ocean chemistry changes, which can take place quickly. A 2007 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered changes in ocean chemistry not expected for another 50 to 100 years on the West Coast.

Devin’s bill is one of the key legislative issues of the Environmental Priorities Coalition this year. The coalition cited research that found the Gulf of Maine is more susceptible to the effects of ocean acidification than other parts of the East Coast.

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Well-managed Mangroves ‘Can Survive Rising Sea Levels’

From SciDev.net. April 9th, 2013

The prevailing idea that sea-level rise will inevitably wipe out mangrove forests — fragile ecosystems that protect nearby communities from natural hazards such as floods and storms — is challenged by a recent report.

Mangroves in some areas will be able to survive climate change-induced sea-level rise as they can slowly increase the level of soil in which they thrive, but only if they are managed and protected, according to ‘The response of mangrove soil surface elevation to sea level rise’ report.mangrove pic

Activities such as building dams on rivers and converting mangrove areas into shrimp farms may have a stronger impact on the health of mangroves than sea-level rise, the report adds. Once weakened by such changes, mangroves will be less able to adapt to changes in sea level.

“A lot of the rivers [that feed mangrove areas] are being dammed, and by doing that we reduce the freshwater flow and sediment flow to mangroves. Both can be very deleterious for mangroves,” says Anna McIvor, lead author of the report and a researcher at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

“Once mangroves are degraded, they are much less likely to keep up with sea-level rise,” McIvor tells SciDev.Net.

The report surveyed key literature published from 2006 to 2011, and found that mangroves in some areas have adapted to rising sea levels and would continue to do so in the future.

But, it notes, longer-term data on the effects of sea-level rise on mangroves are missing.

“Most of the current measurements span [only] about ten years,” says McIvor. Yet, sea levels do not rise that quickly.

She says that evidence is currently also limited by the small number of locations in which mangrove studies have taken place, restricting researchers’ abilities to assess differences in local conditions and make global predictions on the future of mangroves.

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Scallops Die-off Shows Importance of Ocean Acidification Research

March 25th, 2014  The Oregonian, Guest Columnists Burke Hales and George Waldbusser

georgia strait.JPG


A bank of fog looms over the Strait of Georgia as the sun sets in West Vancouver, B.C. A nearby scallops die-off has raised concerns about ocean acidification. (The Associated Press)

When $10 million worth of scallops suddenly died in late February at Island Scallops in Qualicum, BC, the company announced it would have to lay off one-third of the workforce–bad news for this job-poor rural community. The die-off also raises worrisome questions about the long-term health of the Georgia Strait waters and  Island Scallops farm.

The jury is still out on what killed these millions of scallops, but it is reminiscent of the huge losses suffered by the Northwest’s oyster hatcheries beginning several years ago due to ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification happens when oceans absorb carbon pollution from the atmosphere, exacerbating natural conditions and making the water more acidic. The larvae and juveniles of bivalves such as oysters, clams and mussels are notably susceptible to these conditions. There is no doubt that the oyster larvae die-offs were from ocean acidification. But the fact that we don’t know what’s killing the scallops points to a larger problem: not enough science, not enough data, and not enough information.

Luckily for those of us in Oregon, when it comes to improving our scientific understanding of ocean acidification, our state has led the way. Business-science partnerships are already bringing economic security to coastal communities.

Oregon State University researchers began working onsite at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery years ago, creating an academic-industry partnership model for tackling ocean acidification by tracking the problem and giving hatchery managers the power of prediction and adaptation. Similar partnerships are now underway in California, Washington and Alaska with university scientists installing research-grade equipment at shellfish hatcheries, helping to identify immediate responses for adaptation allowing businesses to survive.

Ocean acidification is not just a Pacific Northwest problem, and it won’t just stop with oysters. It doesn’t just threaten the 3,200 people employed by the $272 million shellfish industry in Oregon and Washington. All the way across the country in Maine is a vibrant lobster industry valued at $466 million and employing 4,900 people. They, too, are begging for more science to help them understand, adapt and survive.

The recent release of President Obama’s 2015 budget brought with it the good news that the administration is seeking a sizable increase in federal funding for ocean acidification research and monitoring to $15 million (last year it was funded at $6 million). This gives us hope, but now Congress must act. We urge the Oregon congressional delegation to support us in our search for more federal funding for ocean acidification research, which has proven vital to understanding the problem and providing capacity for industry to adapt.

It’s time for our congressional representatives to follow Oregon’s lead so our coastal communities can have the information they need to survive and flourish.

Burke Hales and George Waldbusser are professors in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS) at Oregon State University.

Original column here

Ocean Acidification Impairs Vermetid Reef Recruitment

Feb 28th, 2014, Nature.com

Vermetids form reefs in sub-tropical and warm-temperate waters that protect coasts from erosion, regulate sediment transport and accumulation, serve as carbon sinks and provide habitat for other species. The gastropods that form these reefs brood encapsulated larvae; they are threatened by rapid environmental changes since their ability to disperse is very limited. We used transplant experiments along a natural CO2 gradient to assess ocean acidification effects on the reef-building gastropod Dendropoma petraeum. We found that although D. petraeum were able to reproduce and brood at elevated levels of CO2, recruitment success was adversely affected. Long-term exposure to acidified conditions predicted for the year 2100 and beyond caused shell dissolution and a significant increase in shell Mg content. Unless CO2 emissions are reduced and conservation measures taken, our results suggest these reefs are in danger of extinction within this century, with significant ecological and socioeconomic ramifications for coastal systems.

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Mediterranean vermetid reefs.

(A) A pristine vermetid reef at low tide in NW Sicily, Italy. (B) Collection of a vermetid core in the outer rim of a vermetid reef; black spots are the shell openings of Dendropoma petraeum cemented by the coralline alga Neogoniolithon brassica-florida. (C) A vermetid core transplanted in the intertidal off Vulcano Island. (D) A recruit newly settled on the coralline alga (top left) and the shell opening with the operculum of a D. petraeum adult (below). Photo credits: R.C. (A); M.M. (B,C); M.M. and M.F. (D)