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U.S. National Research Council says “Chemistry of the ocean is changing at an unprecedented rate” because of rising CO2 emissions

By Nick Sundt
Director of Communications, Climate Change Program, WWF-US

From the WWF Climate Blog

It concludes:

“The chemistry of the ocean is changing at an unprecedented rate and magnitude due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions; the rate of change exceeds any known to have occurred for at least the past hundreds of thousands of years. Unless anthropogenic CO2 emissions are substantially curbed, or atmospheric CO2 is controlled by some other means, the average pH of the ocean will continue to fall. Ocean acidification has demonstrated impacts on many marine organisms. While the ultimate consequences are still unknown, there is a risk of ecosystem changes that threaten coral reefs, fisheries, protected species, and other natural resources of value to society.

The NRC recommends six key elements for the U.S. National Ocean Acidification Program (which was established under the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009).  One of these elements relates to the critical need for additional research.  The NRC says that it is clear “that ocean acidification may threaten marine ecosystems and the services they provide. However, much more information is needed in order to fully understand and address these changes.” It warns that “very little is known about the impacts of acidification on many ecologically or economically important organisms, their populations, and communities; the effects on a variety of physiological and biogeochemical processes; and the capacity of organisms to adapt to projected changes in ocean chemistry.”

The findings were summarized by James P. Barry in testimony on 22 April 2010 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.  The subcommittee hearing was on  The Environmental and Economic Impacts of Ocean Acidification.  Barry is a Senior Scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI); and a member of the NRC committee that produced the report.  He summarized the NRC findings and added his personal perspective, warning of the potential for “massive shifts in ocean ecosystems.”

The NRC study is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Science Foundation.  The full report will be released later this year.

Online Resources:

What is Ocean Acidification? From National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

Summary of Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean. The full report will be released later this year.  See also:

Project Information from the Committee on the Development of an Integrated Science Strategy for Ocean Acidification Monitoring, Research, and Impacts Assessment; National Research Council.

The Environmental and Economic Impacts of Ocean Acidification. Hearing (22 April 2010) before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard (see our posting on 20 April 2010, Senate Subcommittee to Hear Testimony on the Environmental and Economic Impacts of Ocean Acidification).  The hearing included:

Marine Organisms and Ecosystems in a High-CO2 Ocean and an Overview of Recommendations from the National Research Council’s Committee Report on Development of an Integrated Science Strategy for Ocean Acidification Monitoring, Research, and Impacts Assessment.  Testimony of James P. Barry,  Senior Scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI); and Member, Committee on Development of an Integrated Science Strategy for Ocean Acidification Monitoring, Research, and Impacts Assessment, National Research Council.

Acidic Oceans: What is it? Why Should We Care? Video (March 2009) from University of California Television.  Lecture by Andrew Dickson, Professor of Marine Chemistry of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.  From the series,  Perspectives on Ocean Science.

Ocean Acidification — Hermie the Hermit Crab.  Video from the Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

On ‘Earth Week,’ World Is No Longer Our Oyster.  “Acidifying oceans dramatically stunt growth of already threatened shellfish.” Press release (19 April 2010) from the National Science Foundation.  Includes audio slideshow.

Center for Biological Diversity > Ocean Acidification Program.  Includes:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration > Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory > Ocean Acidification

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency > Climate Change > Science  > Future Climate Change > Ocean Acidification .

Call for Public Comment on 303(d) Program and Ocean Acidification.  Federal Register notice (22 March 2010) from the Environmental Protection Agency. Comments must be received on or before May 21, 2010.  See also: EPA Solicits Input on Ocean Acidification and Carbon Dioxide Limits Under Water Pollution Law.  Press release (22 March 2010) from Center for Biological Diversity.

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