For the first time in human history, carbon dioxide levels reached an average daily level of 400 parts per million, as reported this week. The last time the atmosphere contained this much carbon dioxide was 3 million years ago.
This new data comes from the Mauna Loa observatory and a set of data continuously collected since 1958: The Keeling curve. This represents almost a 50% increase since the beginning of the industrial age. Although there is some seasonal variability (that little jagged edge) due to seasonal vegetation sucking up a bit of the CO2 every year, the trend is clear … and it’s not good.
So what does that mean? The effects are not something to look forward to. The last time the CO2 level was this high, way back when, here’s what the world was like:
Back then, it was a different world. Global average temperatures during the period were between 5.4 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) higher than today, and sea level was as much as 131 feet (40 meters) higher in some places.
While the average (which is calculated from levels over the past several days) has since dropped back to 399 (as of today), the saddest part is that both of those numbers are unacceptable. 400 is just a little more catchy. With 401 and beyond right around the corner, what now? We must cut emissions as fast as humanly possible.
Because we are mighty humans, and it is possible.
We need to take care, because we all share this air. Read about the science of our CO2 contribution here. Watch this episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart to gain some hope maybe.
What do you think is the #1 thing we can do to change? What are YOU willing to do?
Algal growth over dead coral prevents coral recruits from settling and re-establishing the coral reef. Algae ecosystems support less diversity of life. This year is predicted to be a bad year in the Asia-Pacific for Coral Bleaching so keep an eye out!
“Various processes are known to enhance the ocean’s ability to store carbon. Sperm whales increase the levels of primary production and carbon export to the deep ocean by depositing iron rich faeces into surface waters of the Southern Ocean. The iron rich faeces causes phytoplankton to grow and take up more carbon from the atmosphere. When the phytoplankton dies, it sinks to the deep ocean and takes the atmospheric carbon with it. By reducing the abundance of sperm whales in the Southern Ocean, whaling has resulted in an extra 2 million tonnes of carbon remaining in the atmosphere each year. “
As if sperm whales weren’t cool enough already.
A cool new way climate change is killing bivalves
We already know that carbon-dioxide-filled, acidic ocean water is no-good, very-bad news for mussels and other underwater shelled creatures, causing their shells to dissolve. But, as these things so often go, it turns out that climate change is even worse for bivalves than we thought: It’s unleashing an awkward kind of anti-puberty on them. They’re growing smaller and weaker, and now we find out that they’re basically losing their hair.
New research published in the journal Nature shows that mussels’ proteinaceuous byssal threads — the little stringy bits that allow them to stick their bodies on stuff — are particularly susceptible to ocean acidification. The researchers found mussels’ little stringy bits were 40 percent weaker when exposed to elevated CO2 levels, even when their shell strength and tissue growth weren’t affected…
(read more: Grist.org) (photo: Sapphire/Flutterby)
by Rebecca Morelle
BBC World Science.
The deepest place in the ocean is teeming with microscopic life, a study suggests.
An international team of scientists found that the very bottom of the Mariana Trench, which lies almost 11km (7 miles) down in the Pacific Ocean, had high levels of microbial activity.
The research is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The underwater canyon was once thought to be too hostile an environment for life to exist.
But this study adds to a growing body of evidence that a range of creatures can cope with the near-freezing temperatures, immense pressures and complete darkness.
Dr Robert Turnewitsch, one of the authors of the paper from the Scottish Association for Marine Science, said: “The deepest parts of the deep sea are certainly not dead zones.”
In 2010, the scientists sent an unmanned submersible down into the vast underwater canyon, where it collected samples of the murky sediment that cakes the sea floor.
An analysis of the levels of oxygen in the sample revealed the presence of a large number of microbes.
Dr Turnewitsch explained: “These microbes, they respire as we do. And this oxygen consumption is an indirect measurement of the activity of the community.”
Surprisingly, these primitive, single-celled organisms were twice as active at the bottom of the trench than they were at a nearby 6km-deep (four miles) site.
They were feasting on a plentiful supply of dead plants and creatures that had drifted down from the sea surface, the decomposing matter becoming trapped within the steep walls of the trench.
“The amount of food down there and also the relative freshness of the material is surprisingly high - it seems to be surprisingly nutritious,” said Dr Turnewitsch.
The level of material found at the bottom of the trench was so high that it suggests the Mariana Trench - which is in an area of the ocean known as the Hadal zone - could play a key part in the carbon cycle and therefore in regulating the planet’s climate.
Dr Richard Turnewitsch said: “The fact that large amounts of organic matter that contain the carbon accumulate and are focused in these trenches also means they play an important role in the removal of carbon from the ocean and the overlying atmosphere.
“The Hadal trenches may play a more important role in the global marine carbon cycle than was previously thought.”
— You know, we forget. This life is all about the microbes. Always.
The Tideline Project by the David Suzuki Foundation
This cool little project shows the effects of climate change a little closer to home.
“Global warming is in our future, but it doesn’t have to be our fate”
Book of the day: “The Making of Environmental Law” by Richard Lazarus. I was inspired to post this book after reading 518environmentalism’s tweet asking her followers for enviro-history reading recommendations. I have a book recommendation page, but it’s a work in progress.
I read this book twice, and refer to it more often than I give credit. Lazarus covers the history of environmental law in the U.S. context. The book is broken into four themes, the last of which I find most interesting:
- Environmental Injury and Remedy, which sounds fancy but isn’t. Lazarus discusses what environmental harm are, and why the law is the appropriate method to fix and prevent such harms. He also exposes (with wonderful honestly) institutional dysfunction in the EPA and other agencies.
- The Road to Making Environmental Laws. This covers the messy sausage making of environmental law and policy since Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” (you have read Carson’s book, rriiiigghhtt??). This short section winds its way through the dips and bends on the road to making the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, and the EPA.
- Environmental Law in the 2000s is the book’s most challenging section. Lazarus discusses how environmental laws have matured and are becoming less effective or veered away from their original intentions. It’s also a short history on how “environmentalism” became so controversial.
- The Graying of Environmentalists, my favorite section of the book, covers the future of environmental law. One of the strangest twists in environmental law was its incompatibility with pollution over large geographic regions - such as oceans and the upper atmosphere. With rapid development, more countries are dumping more pollution into the oceans and air than ever conceived. And it is unclear what should be done about these things. Lazarus offers a few ideas…
You may be surprised to hear that this book is only 250 pages. It’s not a very long book. And it’s not full of jargon or legal mumbo-jumbo. In fact, Lazarus squeezes scientific concepts into teeny, tiny sentences to make clear connections to the legal bases for environmental laws. This makes the book easy to read and comprehend, and writers will admire his skills.
It is one of my all time favorite environmental books, and I cannot think of how I’d even be an environmentalist with out it. Buy it.
A recent study(freePDF) from Stanford University published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) considers how some reef building corals resist the stress of warmer waters that has caused coral bleaching around the world.
Using comparative genomics, researchers found that the heat tolerant corals have prepared for heat by switching on a set of 60 particular genes. Other coral species have also been found to switch on these genes but only after stress has already occurred. Resilient Samoan corals, however, have these genes switched on all of the time.
The results of the study show that some corals have the ability to withstand future increases in ocean temperature and highlight efforts to protect these resilient places.
Just like trees, corals accumulate rings as they grow. This is a cross-section of a deep sea coral, glowing purple under ultraviolet light.
Just like trees, coral growth changes based on temperature, light and nutrient availability — and these fluctuations are reflected in their growth rings. Scientists can use these cross-sections to study past ocean climate!
… it’s just not good for my nerves. Your vote affects us all America, don’t screw up.
Love and luck from the Philippines,