Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Acidic Oceans Cause Oyster Depletion

Photo reference: Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Instituion

Over 440 billion tons of carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere since the end of the first industrial revolution close to 200 years ago, with half of this amount produced in the past three decades. CO2 is one of the most prominent greenhouse gases emitted from the burning of fossil fuels. The increase of CO2 in the atmosphere leads to an increase in the acidity of the oceans because of the carbon sink nature of large bodies of water. The change in acidification of the oceans plays a significant toll on marine ecosystems as well as the rest of society.
The article, “Oysters could disappear in next 100 years due to acidic oceans” found in The Daily News & Analysis presents the reader with the assumed outcomes if the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere continue to rise. Rather than presenting facts with evidence followed by suggestions as to how to improve or make changes, the article fails to provide any raw data and proof to support the claims and probable outcomes.
For example, Dr. John Baxter claims that “increasing levels of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere by industrialized countries is gradually changing the acid level of waters across the world.” After further research by means of Environmental Research Letters Journal, I was able to distinguish the data and reasoning behind the claim. The release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by industrialized countries is referring to the burning of fossil fuels through industry (combustion) as well as automobiles. The oceans act as a carbon sink and absorb the generated greenhouse gas emissions and cause surface water to be more acidic. Therefore Baxter’s statement that industrialized countries are responsible for the increased acidity level of oceans is true, however the argument is more attributable when the added information of why and how are included. Next, the article states that marine animal shells are eroding and different marine species are being wiped out due to the high acidity levels of the ocean. This in turn will supposedly cause a ripple effect on all other fish and marine life. Again, by further reading beyond the article, I was able to collect data that illustrates the fact that the chemical change due to the increase in acidity, decreases carbonate levels in the water and therefore does not provide a suitable environment for calcium carbonate structures such as shells to stay intact and therefore they begin to erode. Oysters are specifically sensitive to these changes and consequently are more susceptible to erosion which in due course will cause their depletion from our oceans. Another important factor which can be drawn from this data is the severe economic impact that the decreasing number of oysters will have on the economy. This is because ocean acidification damages habitats, disrupts the ecosystem and alters marine resource availability. Millions of dollars and countless jobs will be lost. Later in the article it states that the Arctic Ocean will be the first of the Oceans to reach the highest dangerous level of acidification. This means that 10 per cent of its area will reach the threshold where damage will occur by the end of this decade. There is no explanation as to why or how the Arctic Ocean will be the first to reach this level. Supplementary data sources say it is because of the arctic’s northern location close to industrialized nations.

Frequently, when an argument is made about human impact on the environment, a solution is also presented. Baxter puts forth the idea of carbon capture as a prospective solution where carbon released from power stations is trapped underneath the seabed and stopped from being released into the atmosphere. My initial inquiry was how effective this solution is and whether or not it is economically plausible. Perhaps Baxter should have included previous results of such a solution along with the advantages and disadvantages of carbon capture. He finishes the article with the proclamation that we must start using less fossil fuel. While this is seems to be an obvious statement, it is still a valid point and effective way to conclude the article. Nevertheless, even though it seems like the most logical thing to do, it is easier said than done. In my opinion, to finish off the article, I feel it would have been even more effective to set promising guidelines to reduce fossil fuel use.

The article is meant to be read by the general public, therefore I think presenting simple ways that everyday citizens can do their part to help reduce the use of fossil fuels would be very strong as well as practical and beneficial. For example, using bio-fuels such as ethanol or biodiesel opposed to gasoline, saving energy at home by using a programmable thermostat, using mass transportation to reduce the number of cars on the road, and using alternative energy sources such as the sun, wind, geothermal, or nuclear energy. Alternative and renewable energy sources are constantly being developed and are readily available. We should therefore make use of these new technologies which will minimize our dependency on fossil fuels. Since burning fossil fuels is the largest contributing factor to CO2 pollution, and we are aware of the consequences of an increase in this pollutant in the atmosphere, it is extremely important we take the necessary steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


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