In all of the yesterday’s of our fossil fuel age we have emitted a trillion tons of CO2 into our air.
The vast majority of that CO2 ends up dissolved in the oceans, but that process takes 200 years.
Already, in just half the lifetime of yesterday’s CO2, the amount of CO2 dissolved into the oceans has put vital ocean life in peril, you know that life as shellfish and corals that need to take calcium out of seawater to make their shells.
In a new report published in the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Biogeochemical Cycles the peril of yesterday’s trillion ton dose of our fossil fuel age CO2 is made clear. Even though only a fraction of yesterday’s CO2 has made it into the oceans it has already increased the solubility of calcium carbonate in ocean waters. The researchers report that the limestone that forms the foundation of coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract is today dissolving rapidly during the fall and winter months” in the upper Florida Keys.
The AGU explains that previous laboratory projections by scientists had given the world a bit more time in predicting that ocean “pH would not fall low enough to cause reefs to start dissolving until 2050-2060.” This new report illustrates that like other climate change impacts throughout the world, eco-system degradation is occurring much faster than expected in the Florida Keys and most certainly everywhere else in the worlds Seven Seas.
The results of the work of the University of Miami researchers have shown reef dissolution is a significant problem on reefs in the upper Keys with the loss of ‘ reef limestone’ exceeding the amount the corals are able to produce each year. As a result, these reefs are losing the battle with yesterday’s CO2, to say nothing of their worsening peril as we emit more CO2 every day.
Ocean CO2 Ecology 101
As the reefs begin to waste away their collapse destroys habitat for all manner of ocean life. Florida Keys’ reefs are estimated to have an asset value of $7.6 billion when including both fisheries and protective barrier value the reefs provide to highly valued properties ashore.
In the natural scheme of things in the spring and summer months, ocean plant photosynthesis in the ocean that actively captures and repurposes CO2 into new plant growth along with warmer water temperature control the CO2 acidification effects and keep the ocean water conditions favorable for the growth of coral limestone.
During the fall and winter little CO2 converting photosynthesis takes place in the low light and lower temperature conditions and this results in a rise in CO2 and a drop in ocean pH along with the the loss of net reef growth.
“We don’t have as much time as we previously thought,” said Chris Langdon, professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami Rosensteil School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and a senior author of the study. “The reefs are beginning to dissolve away.”
For more than 200 years, or since the industrial revolution, the concentration of carbon dioxide, yesterday’s CO2, in the atmosphere has increased due to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change. Over time the ocean absorbs about much of the CO2 that is released in the atmosphere, without question as levels of atmospheric CO2 increase, so to do the levels of CO2 increase in the ocean.
Peril and Promise
As CO2 is absorbed by seawater, that CO2 becomes acid in the ocean according to the most simple of chemical reactions. H2O + CO2 = H2CO3 (carbonic acid). This increase of ‘carbonic acid’ causes the seawater to become slightly more acidic and that causes calcium carbonate, the common form of calcium in seawater, to become more soluble and much harder for tiny corals to take it from their watery environment.
A recent paper also reports on the ecology of reefs in the Bahamas that are closely related in character to the reefs of the neighbouring Florida Keys. Vital minerals in dust that blows from Africa has fed plankton and reef algae that fixed calcium carbonate out of seawater making the reefs and white famous white sandy beaches of the region. With decline of the dust this natural CO2 protective ecosystem service has been interrupted.
Calcium carbonate is an important building block of structures such as sea shells and coral skeletons. Decreases in calcium carbonate can make building and maintaining shells and other calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying organisms such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton.
High and rising CO2 is especially problematic for the larval forms of shellfish and coral who to make their very first microscopic shells, they must do so within days of hatching from eggs. They simply have no extra stores of energy to overcome the greater energy demand to take more soluble calcium carbonate from their even slightly acidified seawater. The collapse of larval shellfish is widely reported as resulting decimation of shellfish on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America.
Many microscopic planktonic life forms also must calcium carbonate and silicon carbonate from their watery environment and their ability to do so is similarly effected by yesterday’s CO2 making the even slight changes to ocean pH and mineral solubility reported as disastrous to Florida’s reefs. The ocean plankton are the foundation of life in the world’s ocean pastures as they are the equivalent to plants on land, the grass of pastures on land or trees that make up forests.
The report goes on to explain that the changes being seen in ocean chemistry also affect the behavior of non-calcifying organisms as well. Many species of fish’s lose their ability to detect predators as CO2 increases and make waters slightly more acidic. Adding up the peril of yesterday’s CO2 to reef making corals, shellfish, plankton, and fish it is clear the entire ocean food web is endangered by yesterday’s CO2 and we still have all of tomorrow’s CO2 that we will surely be emitting.
It is also clear from many other reports on the observed effects of Yesterday’s CO2 that it is producing a powerful Global Greening Effect around the world. That global greening of the land might seem like a good thing and indeed it does take some of our CO2 out of the air and sequester it in more trees and grass.
But more grass growing means less dust blowing.
It is the dust that blows in the wind that nourishes ocean pasture phytoplankton. This might seem new to you but you surely know all about pastures and their grass on land where the vital grass grows in mineral soil and depends for survival on rain that blows to it on the wind. If the rain does not fall we call that a drought and the grass doesn’t grow. Without grass there can be little animal life can be sustained on pastures become deserts.
The very same is true in reverse for ocean pastures. There the grass, the phytoplankton, grows this time in water waiting for its vital gift from the land, dust in the wind that delivers vital minerals to sustain the ocean pasture plankton. When the dust doesn’t blow in the wind, as is the case in today’s globally greening world where grass covers the land and prevents dust from blowing, the ocean pastures are becoming blue deserts.
On this blue planet where 72 percent of it is covered with oceans the ocean phytoplankton is the most powerful force on earth in managing CO2. Many times over the eons of geologic history ocean phytoplankton has fought off the onslaught of high and rising CO2, sometimes far higher than today. Before our global greening stopped the dust from blowing in the wind our ocean pastures were abl to keep our world in a healthy CO2 balance and in the process filled our oceans with vast amounts of fish and marine life.
We Must Restore Ocean Pastures And Ocean Photosynthesis
We can and we must today without delay replenish the dust we deny the 72% of this blue planet that so desperately needs it to survive and thrive. We can do this safely, sustainably, inexpensively, and immediately and as we do we will restore the balance to Nature we have disrupted through our ravenous mindless burning of seemingly beneficial fossil fuels. As we take on the role of caring ocean pasture stewards and good shepherds we will be rewarded with billions of additional fish that are produced by the work of ocean pastures repurposing billions of tons of our dangerous fossil CO2, both yesterday’s and tomorrows, into new ocean life.
Join me – we can do it!