Via Eurekalert, from the NGO Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO), a press release that says, “panic! please send money”. Here’s the punch line:
The Foundation says the average level of pH at the ocean surface has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1 units, “rendering the oceans more acidic than they have been for 20 million years,”
Note that any pH lower than 7.0 is considered “acidic”. Distilled (pure) water has a pH of 7.0. Right now the ocean with a pH of 8.1 is considered “basic”.
Even more interesting is this map below from WikiMedia showing the change in global ocean pH over the last two hundred years. The map information says:
Estimated change in annual mean sea surface pH between the pre-industrial period (1700s) and the present day (1990s). Δ pH here is in standard pH units. Calculated from fields of dissolved inorganic carbon and alkalinity from the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project climatology and temperature and salinity from the World Ocean Atlas (2005) climatology using Richard Zeebe’s csys package . It is plotted here using a Mollweide projection (using MATLAB and the M_Map package). Note that the GLODAP climatology is missing data in certain oceanic provinces including the Arctic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Malay Archipelago.
So, with accuracy like this, and such small pH changes obviously measurable, and the pH not yet anywhere near acidic, why do we need a global $15 billion pH measurement system again? It seems all they need is a few places covered to infill some data.
Here’s the press release:
Speed installation of system to monitor vital signs of global ocean, scientists urge
‘It is past time to get serious about measuring what’s happening to the seas around us’
The ocean surface is 30 percent more acidic today than it was in 1800, much of that increase occurring in the last 50 years – a rising trend that could both harm coral reefs and profoundly impact tiny shelled plankton at the base of the ocean food web, scientists warn.
Despite the seriousness of such changes to the ocean, however, the world has yet to deploy a complete suite of available tools to monitor rising acidification and other ocean conditions that have a fundamental impact on life throughout the planet.
Marine life patterns, water temperature, sea level, and polar ice cover join acidity and other variables in a list of ocean characteristics that can and should be tracked continuously through the expanded deployment of existing technologies in a permanent, integrated global monitoring system, scientists say.
Caption: A mooring with a suite of ocean acidification and other environmental sensors at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef is the latest tool in an expanding global network of ocean measurements, informing scientists of changes in ocean chemistry.
Credit: Dr. Bronte Tilbrook, CSIRO, Australia
The Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO), representing 38 major oceanographic institutions from 21 countries and leading a global consortium called Oceans United, will urge government officials and ministers meeting in Beijing Nov. 3-5 to help complete an integrated global ocean observation system by target date 2015.
It would be the marine component of a Global Earth Observation System of Systems under discussion in Beijing by some 71 member nations of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations.
The cost to create an adequate monitoring system has been estimated at $10 billion to $15 billion in assets, with $5 billion in annual operating costs.
Some 600 scientists with expertise in all facets of the oceans developed an authoritative vision of characteristics to monitor at a 2009 conference on ocean observations, (www.oceanobs09.net).
Furthermore, as documented in the forthcoming proceedings of the 2009 conference (to be published shortly by the European Space Agency), the value of such information to the world’s financial interests and to human security would dwarf the investment required.
“Although the US and European Union governments have recently signaled support, international cooperation is desperately needed to complete a global ocean observation system that could continuously collect, synthesize and interpret data critical to a wide variety of human needs,” says Dr. Kiyoshi Suyehiro, Chairman of POGO.
“Most ocean experts believe the future ocean will be saltier, hotter, more acidic, and less diverse,” states Jesse Ausubel, a founder of POGO and of the recently completed Census of Marine Life. “It is past time to get serious about measuring what’s happening to the seas around us.”
The risks posed by ocean acidification exemplify the many good reasons to act urgently.
Caption: Scientists explore on and beneath polar ice. Their aircraft remotely sense animals through properties of scattered light. Marine animals themselves carry tags that store records of their travels and dives and communicate with satellites. Fish carry tags that revealed their migration past acoustic listening lines. Sounds that echoed back to ships portray schools of fish assembling, swimming, and commuting up and down. Standardized frames and structures dropped near shores and on reefs provide information for comparing diversity and abundance. Manned and unmanned undersea vehicles plus divers photograph sea floors and cliffs. Deep submersibles sniff and videotape smoking seafloor vents. And nets and dredges catch specimens, shallow and deep, for closest study.
Credit: E. Paul Oberlander / Census of Marine Life
POGO-affiliated scientists at the UK-based Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science recently published a world atlas charting the distribution of the subset of plankton species that grow shells at some point in their life cycles. Not only are these shelled plankton fundamental to the ocean’s food web, they also play a major role in planetary climate regulation and oxygen production. Highly acidic sea water inhibits the growth of plankton shells.
The Foundation says the average level of pH at the ocean surface has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1 units, “rendering the oceans more acidic than they have been for 20 million years,” with expectations of continuing acidification due to high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Because colder water retains more carbon dioxide, the acidity of surface waters may increase fastest at Earth’s high latitudes where the zooplankton known as pteropods are particularly abundant. Pteropods (see links to images below) are colorful, free-swimming pelagic sea snails and sea slugs on which many animals higher in the food chain depend. Scientists caution that the overall global marine impact of rising carbon dioxide is unclear because warming of the oceans associated with rising greenhouse gases in the air could in turn lead to lower retention of carbon dioxide at lower latitudes and to potential countervailing effects.
Says Foundation Director Dr. Peter Burkill: “Ocean acidification could have a devastating effect on calcifying organisms, and perhaps marine ecosystems as a whole, and we need global monitoring to provide timely information on trends and fluxes from the tropics to the poles. Threatened are tiny life forms that help the oceans absorb an estimated 50 gigatonnes of carbon from Earth’s atmosphere annually, about the same as all plants and trees on land. Humanity has a vital interest in authoritative information about ocean conditions and a global network of observations is urgently needed.”
Ocean conditions that require monitoring can be divided into three categories:
- Chemical – including pollution, levels of oxygen, and rising acidity;
- Physical / Geological – including sound, tide and sea levels, as well as sudden wave energy and bottom pressure changes that could provide precious minutes of warning before a tsunami; and
- Biological – including shifts in marine species diversity, distribution, biomass and ecosystem function due to changing water conditions.
Benefits of the comprehensive ocean system envisioned include:
- Improved short-term and seasonal forecasts to mitigate the harm caused by drought, or by severe storms, cyclones, hurricanes and monsoons, such as those that recently put one-fifth of Pakistan temporarily underwater and left 21 million people homeless or injured. International lenders estimate the damage to Pakistan’s infrastructure, agriculture and other sectors at $9.5 billion. Improved weather forecasting would also enhance the safety of the fishing and shipping industries, and offshore operations such as wind farms and oil drilling. Sea surface temperature is a key factor in the intensity and location of severe weather events;
- Early identification of pollution-induced eutrophication that spawns algal blooms responsible for health problems in humans and marine species, and harm to aquaculture operations;
- Timely alerts of changes in distributions of marine life that would allow identification of areas needing protective commercial re-zoning, and of immigration by invasive species;