Read this – it’s important.

I was giving a final night-before-the-exam Science grind on Wednesday night, and the ultra simplified carbon dioxide-oxygen cycle diagram made me wince. First, it showed all the CO2 that people create being absorbed by trees and plants, and as I explained to my student, a large amount of what is absorbed, possibly up to half, is absorbed by the oceans, as CO2 is water-soluble. (Of course, the rest is left in the air.) This why the people who are in favour of setting up a Carbon trading system that they can get rich off poor countries from refer to the Oceans of the world as carbon sinks.

Well, I thought this article, neatly tucked away on the Bulletin Page of Saturday’s Irish Times (with the crossword and the bridge hand) had a very clear and pointed summary of what’s going on in the ocean. And even then, it doesn’t really cover the level of plastics polluting the oceans – see Great Pacific Garbage Patch on Wikipedia – most of the plastic isn’t visible, but that doesn’t change anything.

Anyway, here’s the Irish Times piece (originally from Reuters):

Oceans ‘choking’ due to climate change – The Irish Times
The Irish Times – Saturday, June 19, 2010

THE WORLD’S oceans are virtually choking on rising greenhouse gases, destroying marine ecosystems and breaking down the food chain – irreversible changes that have not occurred for several million years, a new study says.

The changes could have dire consequences for hundreds of millions of people who rely on oceans for their livelihoods.

“It’s as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day,” said the report’s lead author, Australian marine scientist Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.

The Australia/US report published in Science magazine yesterday, studied 10 years of marine research and found that climate change was causing major declines in marine ecosystems.

Oceans were rapidly warming and acidifying, water circulation was being altered and dead zones within the ocean depths were expanding, said the report.

There has also been a decline in major ocean ecosystems like kelp forests and coral reefs and the marine food chain was breaking down, with fewer and smaller fish and more frequent diseases and pests among marine organisms.

“If we continue down this pathway, we get into conditions which have no analogue to anything we’ve experienced,” said Prof Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland.

Prof Hoegh-Guldberg said oceans were the Earth’s “heart and lungs”, producing half of the world’s oxygen and absorbing 30 per cent of manmade carbon dioxide.

“We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail,” said Prof Hoegh-Guldberg.

“Quite plainly, the Earth cannot do without its ocean. This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great extinction event.”

More than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food and in 20 years time, this number could double, the report’s authors state.

The world’s climate has remained stable for several thousand years, but climate change in the past 150 years is now forcing organisms to change rapidly – changes that through evolution would normally take a long time, said the report.

“We are becoming increasingly certain that the world’s marine ecosystems are approaching tipping points.

“These tipping points are where change accelerates and causes unrelated impacts on other systems,” said co-author marine scientist John F Bruno at the University of North Carolina.

Last week, the head of the United Nations environment programme, Achim Steiner, said it was crucial that the world responded to the loss of coral reefs, forests and other ecosystems “that generate multi-trillion dollar services that underpin all life-including economic life on Earth”.

For people with children, this must make frightening reading. It’s time to start digging up part of your garden now and teaching them how to grow food. While there’s still time…

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~ by Lynn Duffy on June 20, 2010.

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