Oceans reveal further impacts of climate change, says UAB expert

Feb 04, 2010
Jim McClintock, Ph.D., is a leading polar marine biologist who is researching the impacts of ocean acidification. Credit: UAB/Steve Wood

The increasing acidity of the world's oceans - and that acidity's growing threat to marine species - are definitive proof that the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is causing climate change is also negatively affecting the marine environment, says world-renowned Antarctic marine biologist Jim McClintock, Ph.D., professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Biology.

"The oceans are a sink for the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere," says McClintock, who has spent more than two decades researching the off the coast of Antarctica. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by oceans, and through a chemical process are released to make seawater more acidic.

"Existing data points to consistently increasing oceanic acidity, and that is a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere; it is incontrovertible," McClintock says. "The ramifications for many of the organisms that call the water home are profound."

A substance's level of acidity is measured by its pH value; the lower the pH value, the more acidic is the substance. McClintock says data collected since the pre-industrial age indicates the mean surface pH of the oceans has declined from 8.2 to 8.1 units with another 0.4 unit decline possible by century's end. A single whole pH unit drop would make ocean waters 10 times more acidic, which could rob many marine organisms of their ability to produce protective shells - and tip the balance of marine food chains.

"There is no existing data that I am aware of that can be used to debate the trend of increasing ," he says.

McClintock and three co-authors collected and reviewed the most recent data on ocean acidification at high latitudes for an article in the December 2009 issue of Oceanography magazine, a special issue that focuses on ocean acidification worldwide. McClintock also recently published research that revealed barnacles grown under acidified seawater conditions produce weaker adult shells.

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UAB biologist Jim McClintock, Ph.D., discusses the impact of ocean acidification. Credit: UAB/Jamie Cottle

Antarctica as the Ground Zero for Climate Change

McClintock says the delicate balance of life in the waters that surround the frozen continent of Antarctica is especially susceptible to the effects of acidification. The impact on the marine life in that region will serve as a bellwether for global climate-change effects, he says.

"The Southern Ocean is a major global sink for carbon dioxide. Moreover, there are a number of unique factors that threaten to reduce the availability of abundant minerals dissolved in polar seawater that are used by marine invertebrates to make their protective shells," McClintock says.

"In addition, the increased acidity of the seawater itself can literally begin to eat away at the outer surfaces of shells of existing clams, snails and other calcified organisms, which could cause species to die outright or become vulnerable to new predators."

One study McClintock recently conducted with a team of UAB researchers revealed that the shells of post-mortem Antarctic marine invertebrates evidenced erosion and significant loss of mass within only five weeks under simulated acidic conditions.

McClintock says acidification also could exert a toll on the world's fisheries, including mollusks and crustaceans. He adds that the potential loss of such marine populations could greatly alter the oceans' long-standing food chains and produce negative ripple effects on human industries or food supplies over time.

"So many fundamental biological processes can be influenced by ocean acidification, and the change in the oceans' makeup in regions such as Antarctica are projected to occur over a time period measured in decades," McClintock says.

"Evolution simply may be unable to keep up, because it typically takes longer periods, hundreds or even thousands of years to naturally adapt," he says. "But ocean acidification is simply happening too quickly for many species to survive unless we reverse the trend of increasing anthropogenically generated carbon dioxide that is in large part driving climate change."

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User comments : 12

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emergent
1 / 5 (5) Feb 04, 2010
co2 is an effect of warming not the cause. sunlight is the catalyst and this increases its absorption rate by warming the water. co2 causes global dimming as it blocks sunlight. the whole solar system is warming, this should tell us the major source of climate change is occurring outside the planet. our sun makes up more the 80% of all the mass of our solar system, i think its quite easy to see the the cause. now whats getting our sun so worked up... well it is about to pass through the galactic plane... i just hope as we put out BS people are actually looking into this process.
GrayMouser
3 / 5 (6) Feb 04, 2010
McClintock, who has spent more than two decades researching the marine species off the coast of Antarctica

This makes it sound like a personal opinion instead of detailed scientific work of someone that has spent years studying the interchange of gases at the ocean's surface.
freethinking
1 / 5 (6) Feb 05, 2010
The science is settled. Woops.
Well if co2 isn't causing global warming it must be doing something else thats bad. CO2 is the most dangerous substance that people put out. So we must stamp out human CO2 production. Everyone who believes in AGW you must hold your breath.
moebiex
5 / 5 (2) Feb 05, 2010
If we look at CO2 impacts as a hypothesis (H), the consequences of one side or the other beign mistaken are far from equivalent in terms of the risks involved. A Type I error (reject H even though it is true), continuing on our present course is quite likely to lead to ecosystem changes that will result in systems collapse and failure as far as human civilization is concerned. If in fact we accept H even though it is false (Type II error) it is going to cost some individuals and companies extra upfront money because they are going to have to abandon their current revenue strategies and adopt new ones. Of course they are likely the same entities which will eventually end up running the show anyways so it is only lilely to be a temporary inconvenience.
freethinking
1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 05, 2010
moebiex,
I like what you said, and it is a valid comment.
If AGW is false, doing nothing costs nothing.
If AGW is false, doing what is required to reduce CO2 emmissions to 1990 levels (some say even more) will do what?
Based on current and foreseeable technology reducing to this level will:
Reduce personal freedoms, Bankrupt companies, reduce economic output, increase human suffering, keep third world countries poor, deminish quality of life, reduce funds available to sove real environmental problems (garbage floating in the middle of the oceans, lead pollution, soot, heavy metal, etc)

There is only a limited amount of funds available, wasting it on junk science is stupid.

If AGW is real, the changes will occure at a realatively slow pace of decades, we and nature will adapt as necessary as we and nature has done in the past. In some cases the changes if they occur will benifit people.

moebiex great question, but how much will it cost you to reduce your co2 output 50%
operator
5 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2010
very limited mindset there freethinking.
why do you suppose we're going to lose money adapting an mitigated effects of AGW?

and more importantly why do you suppose that by employing the capitalist monetary system that got us in this shity state will get us out.
by just looking at options that only use the present system your falling into some very rigid paradigms. get more imaginative with it.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (5) Feb 07, 2010
"There is no existing data that I am aware of that can be used to debate the trend of increasing ocean acidification," he says.


...how about the fact that 8.1 pH is a BASE, moron...not an acid.

I mean, you can say that the ocean is "less basic", but you cannot call it "acidification" because that requires pH less than 7...
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2010
Quantum_Conundrum: I assume you don't have a degree in chemistry or chemical engineering. Acidic or basic are terms that show the relation of a solution to the neutral 7 pH value. When a solution has its value dropped (even when it is basic), it is standard chemical terminology to say that it has been acidified (raising the concentration of hydronium ions). The author is hardly a "moron" for using the correct terminology. Using the term "moron" says a lot more about you than the author.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2010
pH of 8.1 is a LONG way from inhibiting the growth of the shells or bones of any ocean organisms.

There are crabs and shellfish that grow right smack in the middle of hydrothermal vents spewing sulfuric acid for goodness sake. The guy's a crank.
freethinking
1 / 5 (4) Feb 07, 2010
very limited mindset there freethinking.
why do you suppose we're going to lose money adapting an mitigated effects of AGW?


Because it is being forced to adopt stupid expensive technologies that do more harm than using present technologies.
Prime example would be using corn for fuel, those nice windmills, CF lights doing more harm than good. Raising costs on fuel so poor people cant travel to jobs, feed their families healthy food, etc.

nd more importantly why do you suppose that by employing the capitalist monetary system that got us in this shity state will get us out.

actually the monetary system is highly regulated. It was these regulations that caused the distaster. But since most people dont do the research its not suprising you think this way.

I want money spent on solving real immediate serious environmental problems, rather than enriching elite progressive socialists that push AGW.
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2010
winding up the next club of rome, soviet style, crisis of fear... (meanwhile what they seek to make would be a really sick world if one actually took their points and then imagined their fruition - compared to norman rockwell, it would be this maxi mondo laboratory inspired solution to life as if life is a problem in need of a solution)
GrayMouser
1 / 5 (2) Feb 09, 2010
Quantum_Conundrum: I assume you don't have a degree in chemistry or chemical engineering. Acidic or basic are terms that show the relation of a solution to the neutral 7 pH value. When a solution has its value dropped (even when it is basic), it is standard chemical terminology to say that it has been acidified (raising the concentration of hydronium ions).

True but it would be less political to say that the ocean is being neutralized, at least until the pH drops below 7.

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