For thousands of years shells of shellfish like mussels were about the same thickness.
Suddenly beginning about 50 years ago their shells began thinning, on average 27% thinner today than a hundred or a thousand years ago.
It’s not so much that shellfish shells are dissolving but it now takes more energy for the shellfish to make a shell due to our high and rising CO2 making calcium more soluble and hence more difficult to extract from acidifying oceans.
Follow this story to the end as there is something we/you can do about it!
Doing summer field work at Cape Flattery, seen above, is pretty sweet.
Our favourite team of researchers from the University of Chicago, led by Tim Wooten and his partner, have been comparing the shells of live shellfish esp. mussels pulled from the Pacific coast today with historical shells, some of them thousands of years old. They’ve come to an alarming realization the shells are suddenly growing thinner and thinner. Their report is in the prestigious Proceedings of the British Royal Society.
Lead authors Professor’s Cathy Pfister and Tim Wooten have been studying a rugged coastal island at the western most tip of the State of Washington for many years as reported in the NY Times feature. I reported on their fantastic work two years ago on this blog in that post I wrote: For the past several years, the Pacific Northwest shellfish and oyster industry has struggled with significant losses due to ocean acidification as oyster larvae encountered mortality rates sufficient to make production non-economically feasible.
The previous study two years ago was led by researchers at Oregon State University and documented why oysters appear so sensitive to increasing acidity. It isn’t necessarily a case of acidic water dissolving their shells, researchers say. Rather it is a case of water high in carbon dioxide altering shell formation rates, energy usage and, ultimately, the growth and survival of the young oysters.
Now the Pfister/Wooten team have written a masterpiece of science, I warn you you might need to polish up your math and statistics goggles to read it. The researchers compared the thicknesses of the same sets of shells. On average, the shells from nearby historical and archeological collections were much thicker than modern counterparts. Shells from the 1970s were 32.2 percent thicker.
The long-term decline in thickness likely shows a response to ocean acidification, though the researchers also have been studying other environmental drivers including changes in food supply (aka. declining plankton) for mussels. It’s quite clear that within another 50 years the shells of wild mussels on the West coast of North America (and elsewhere) will be far too thin to keep them alive and well.
The findings are a clarion call for concern over the well being of the West Coast mussel’s and its vital role as a foundational species in waters from California to Alaska. Declining shell thickness makes mussels, and other shellfish, them increasingly vulnerable to predators and environmental disturbances. This will affect interactions with hundreds of other species of marine and shoreline life that live near and have depended on the incredibly abundant mussel beds found in the inter-tidal zone.
Here’s a great video that talks about ocean acidification.
It’s not just about Ocean Acidification it’s more about the crisis facing ocean plant life – phytoplankton.
Ocean oxygen production could almost cease by the end of this century. Why is that a problem? Simply because 3 out of every 4 breaths of oxygen you take in is made by ocean plant life.
A recent study of ocean plankton led by Sergei Petrovskii, Professor in Applied Mathematics (specializing in ecological mathematics) from the University of Leicester’s Department of Mathematics, has shown that an increase in the water temperature of the world’s oceans of around six degrees Celsius – which some scientists predict could occur as soon as 2100 – could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis. The paper Mathematical Modelling of Plankton–Oxygen Dynamics Under the Climate Change was published in late 2015 in the Journal Applied Mathematics.
“By 2100, the earth at sea level could have atmospheric oxygen levels comparable to the top of Mount Everest today. And as far as I know, people cannot normally stay on Everest without oxygen masks for more than a few minutes,” Petrovskii said.
Our Ocean Hope Spot
It’s not to late to restore and regenerate ocean plankton, our greatest ally. The power of the ocean to manage CO2, it’s temperature, and our entire planetary climate is far greater than commonly represented. It is not too late for us to help, by restoring ocean plant life to recent levels of health and abundance the ocean plankton can rapidly save itself and us!
This solution is remarkable in that it has come of 25 years of intensive international research by governments, academia, and citizen scientists like myself. IT JUST WORKS!
Here’s a photo (below) that speaks a thousand words. In 2012 with just 10 shipmates I took a modest fishing boat out to sea in the NE Pacific. We carefully spread 100 tonnes of mineral dust on a dying ocean pasture. The cost of that blessed dust is less than $50,000 (fifty thousand dollars). The ocean pasture turned from being a blue desert into a lush green pasture. The very next year the fish came back, hundreds of millions of additional salmon.
To begin join me, lend a hand to prepare for our voyages of recovery.
Help us charter a few modest fishing boats, one for each of the World’s Seven Seas.
We will buy enough mineral rich dust, a few thousand tonnes, to sustainably restore one to several ocean pastures in each of the world’s Seven Seas.
We will find hardy some shipmates along the way to lend a hand, we don’t need many in fact in my work proving this process there were only 12 shipmates aboard my ocean pasture restoration ship in the summer of 2012.
The work is hard for few days at a time to restore each pasture but that work is remarkable as the ocean pasture changes from a dying blue desert into a Garden of Eden in 3 days after receiving the sacrament of dust we deliver.
This is not a one-off job, it requires that the ship and noble ocean pasture-folk return to their ocean pasture more than once each year and continue to do this for the next 100 years and more.
The dire and deadly poisoning of our planets air with a trillion tonnes of CO2 already emitted and surely another trillion tonnes to be emitted before our fossil fuel age is done requires that we be good shepherds of our ocean pastures for centuries.
If you like this idea and want to help I hope you will contact me. I stand ready to teach you what I have learned about how to feed and save the world. I’ll be going to sea on the Seven Ships to Save