Environment Blog

Oceans in Trouble

February 18, 2008

Our oceans are in trouble and climate change is playing a big part. This broad theme dominated many of the scientific talks I caught this weekend at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

From the disintegration of coral reefs, to the invasion of the Antarctic by shell-crushing sharks, to the emptying of the seas by overfishing, speaker after speaker’s prognosis for the world’s oceans was not good. In the course of several hundred years we have altered a global system that has played a delicate balancing act for millions of years.

At Science Friday’s live broadcast I heard about a floating garbage patch two times the size of Texas and how we are depleting the oceans of fish.

Coral expert Ove Hoegh-Guldberg spoke about the bleaching of coral reefs and their eventual disappearance. The cause? “Acidification” of the oceans by high CO2 levels in the atmosphere. It’s kind of like what happens to a can of soda when it’s carbonated with CO2–in addition to the bubbles, you get carbonic acid that eats away at the enamel on your teeth. With higher atmospheric CO2 levels, the ocean becomes like an increasingly carbonated soda and coral skeletons like cavity-ridden teeth.

I also learned about some of the problems we face as the oceans get warmer. Those invisible barriers that divide up the ocean into warm and cold zones will radically shift. We’ll start to see weird things like sharks and king crabs invading the Antarctic and corals moving north into cooler water.

What is the human species doing to this planet? The world’s air and oceans, which are so intimately connected, are suffering from one the greatest “tragedy of the commons” ever to face mankind. No one owns the sky and the sea and so no one is taking responsibility for them.

We have to put some blame on journalists who have so complacently let words like “global warming” and “climate change” creep into the public vernacular. At a talk about the media’s coverage of “climate change” John Holdren said it best–“climate change” should really be called a “global climatic disruption.”

If where our oceans are headed is any indication…he’s spot on.


The Scienceline Newsletter

Sign up for regular updates

About the Author


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *