Monday, February 27, 2006

The Soylent Seas

A reader sent me this story in the March /April Mother Jones. It's a bit of a read, but considering it's about the death of the oceans as we know them, you might want to at least see what's happening.

Here is an very small, but significant part of this well crafted article.

The Fate of the Ocean
Mother Jones
By Julia Whitty

In 2005, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found the first clear evidence that the world ocean is growing warmer.

In a novel study combining computer modeling and field observations, and screening for natural weather effects and the impact of volcanic gases, they discovered the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past 40 years as a result, clearly and simply, of human-induced, rising greenhouse gases.

The statistical significance of these results is far too strong to be merely dismissed and should wipe out much of the uncertainty about the reality of global warming,” reported researcher Tim Barnett of Scripps, who suggests the Bush administration convene a Manhattan-style Project to figure out what mitigations might still be possible.

One symptom already manifesting is the melting of the Arctic. Last year set a fourth consecutive record low for ice cover in the Arctic, and scientists now predict the summertime Arctic will be ice-free before the end of this century—a course likely exacerbated by the simultaneous decrease of wintertime Arctic ice. Consequently, the world’s 22,000 polar bears, along with their primary prey, the ringed seals who likewise den on sea ice, are likely to suffer localized or even overall extinction [see “On Thin Ice” by Marla Cone].

Yet the eight nations surrounding the Arctic are rushing to capitalize on the resources emerging from the ice, grabbing for a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas; a trove of gold, diamonds, copper, and zinc; the earth’s last pristine fishing grounds, which are shifting north as fish follow colder waters; and the fabled Northwest Passage and other Arctic travel routes.

Even as some governments deny the existence of global warming, they are racing to map the Arctic seafloor and bolster their territorial claims for exclusive economic zones no one cared about 15 years ago.

Reinforcing these entrepreneurial dreams is the reality of a feedback loop already in motion.

Compact sea ice, with its high albedo (whiteness), reflects 80 percent of the sun’s heat back into space, while seawater, with a low albedo, absorbs 80 percent. The reduction in the ratio of ice to water further increases the warming of the ocean, which rises from thermal expansion, creating an even greater surface area of water, which promotes further warming and further melting, nibbling away at even more sea ice.

In other words, the melting will be difficult if not impossible to reverse anytime soon.

Along with thermal expansion, melting ice also adds freshwater to the ocean. Until recently, many researchers believed this freshening would have a negligible impact on sea levels or ocean chemistry. But the effects are proving unpredictable.

In the Antarctic Peninsula, lubricated by summer temperatures registering 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than 40 years ago, ancient ice shelves are disintegrating, enabling the glaciers behind them to surge into the sea with a rapidity startling to scientists.

Consequently, fears are growing that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, currently contained by the Ronne and Ross ice shelves, ever surges, it would raise sea levels by as much as 23 feet worldwide.


AT NO TIME IN HUMAN HISTORY has so much scientific inquiry been focused so intensively in one direction: on the anthropogenic changes in our world. As a result, we are learning more, and more quickly than ever before, about how the life-support systems of earth work.

Science now recognizes that the ocean is not just a pretty vista or a distant horizon but the vital circulatory, respiratory, and reproductive organs of our planet, and that these biological systems are suffering. "

Over the weekend, I told my girl friend that

We can power the earth cleanly, sustainably, and economically.

We can protect the cities from the heat storms of climate change.

We can provide the nitrogen to grow our food on the land.

I do not know how we can survive with a dead ocean.

Then that movie came to mind.



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*illustration courtesy Yuko Shimizu


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just received my Mother Jones over the weekend. I only read half way through the article on Oceans. Thanks for posting part.

All the articles that you have been posting over the last few weeks point to a more and more difficult scenario. The science seems clear.

Perhaps we can change our ways,

but will we.

6:58 AM  

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