Energy and global warming news for January 22: Changing Climate Means Changing Oceans

A very good NPR Science Friday interview with some leading ocean scientists.

Changing Climate Means Changing Oceans

Scientists who study the oceans say the effects of climate change are already being seen in the world’s oceans. From acidification and warming temperatures to sea-level rise and sea-ice loss, Ira Flatow and guests look at how the oceans are changing with changes in climate.

FLATOW:  When you hear the words climate change, chances are you think about its effects on the land, right, and talk about drugs and crops and glaciers. But some scientists say we shouldn’t be calling it climate change. We should be calling it ocean change, because the oceans are, literally, choking, they say, on greenhouse gases.

They’re becoming more acidic. There are changes in ocean circulation patterns, fisheries, corals, plankton, shellfish. They are all being affected by the changing water.

There’s also more water in the oceans than ever before. Sea level is rising as polar ice and glaciers are melting, and even the water itself is expanding as it warms up.

So what does that mean for those that live on islands or along the coast? Rising oceans? That’s what we’ll be talking about today. We’re broadcasting from a conference of the National Council for Science and the Environment. Our changing oceans is the theme of the conference, and we’ll be talking about our changing oceans this hour….

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Steve Gaines, your research is in fisheries management, and I talked about at the beginning ocean levels rising. Sea levels are rising. How are fish populations affected by all of this climate change?

Prof. GAINES: Well, surprisingly, about 20 percent of the protein that people eat comes from the sea. I think most people don’t think it has – it’s anywhere near that high. And climate change is going to have a big impact on that, because when species move towards the poles, it changes the types of fish you can catch in one place.

When warming reduces the productivity of the ocean by making phytoplankton be more nutrient-limited in parts of the ocean, it makes the food webs that depend upon that phytoplankton decrease in abundance. And so there’s potential for fairly dramatic declines and rearrangement of where the fish occur….

NEREM: … And then there’s – you know, we’re looking at projections for the future, and there’s a lot of people now who are thinking that a meter by 2100 is well within the range of possibility.FLATOW: What is the range of possibility?

Prof. NEREM: Well, that’s the big question. That’s where all the research is right now. It’s what people are looking at. You know, a meter is in that range, but from 80 centimeters up to a meter and a half is probably a good bet.

FLATOW: And could something happen to accelerate that, unexpectedly? Could we have more ice melting in Greenland or Antarctica or something?

Prof. NEREM: Well, definitely. It’s, you know, the components of sea level change are really similar to expansion, which is about a third of what we have right now. Mountain glaciers outside of Greenland and Antarctica are another third. But that’s really the big ice sheets that have the most water locked in them, and we have six meters of potential sea level rise in Greenland, 60 meters in Antarctica. And that’s where, you know, the potential for something that we didn’t anticipate could happen sooner than we think….

Prof. NEREM: There are thinking very creatively about a lot of aspect of geo-engineering climate where – but most of them are like this proposal, where -even if they work – all they do is deal with one of the symptoms of climate change. And the unintended consequences in a scenario like that, of course, would be really dramatic. But, I mean, there are lot of different geo-engineering scenarios that have been put on the table to, you know, paint roads white and rooftops white, and things on these lines, which can deal with some of the cooling aspects and heating aspects. But they don’t solve all of the problems.

FLATOW: And so, what would be one that had the best effect, do you think, if you wanted to think of one. Would it be capping greenhouse gas emission? Would it be…

Prof. NEREM: Well, I mean, I think, in the long-term, we need a budget for carbon that we’re putting in the atmosphere. And a budget that sets caps, and then pretty drastic reductions and a mechanism of driving those. And there are a number of proposals in the NRC report as to different options about how you could get there.

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23 Responses to Energy and global warming news for January 22: Changing Climate Means Changing Oceans

  1. fj3 says:

    Since marine ecosystems are considered to be at extreme risk the world’s oceans may serve as crucial areas of for intense mitigation efforts.

    1. Tremendous energy sources such as wind turbines above the surface, energy extraction from currents, wave and tidal action, temperature and pressure differentials, heat reservoirs, etc.

    2. Oceans naturally sequester about half the CO2 in the atmosphere and even more heat.

    3. Most of the world’s people live on coasts.

  2. Paulm says:

    The end of The World: Dubai island development sinks back into sea after being scuppered by financial crisis

  3. Wit's End says:

    from the transcript:

    “FLATOW: You know, I had a thought about this a while back when I was on vacation, scuba diving, you know, looking at the coral reefs and how they’re gone. The reefs I used to go to 20 years ago – and I’m talking about some of them in the Caribbean – I used to get lost in seas of Elkhorn coral that are just all gone now.

    I mean, it’s hard to believe that. And I’d go to another – I go to a dive site on a tour, and I do a little snorkeling and, you know, the tour guy is saying, isn’t this coral wonderful? And I’d come up and I’m saying, this coral is dead. You’re bringing tourists to dead coral, and they don’t even know it.

    (Soundbite of laughter)”

    my comment:

    Gail Zawacki (witsendnj) wrote:
    Ira, I hope you are reading comments here. I had the exact same reaction snorkeling in the Caribbean, 10 years apart. There was an astounding difference.

    Now here is the important thing that might motivate people, because most people don’t snorkel. The EXACT SAME THING is happening to trees. All of the trees are dying, all species, all ages, and most people don’t even realize it.

    Just as corals are dying from acidification (and more and more research is indicating that is the primary cause, not warming) trees and all vegetation are dying off from exposure to background tropospheric ozone. Ozone is toxic to plants, it interferes with the ability to photosynthesize. Plants exposed to ozone are more vulnerable to insects, disease, fungus, and extreme weather – wind and drought. This has been demonstrated in dozens and dozens of published scientific studies. In fact, NASA and the Dept. of Agriculture estimate crop yield losses in the billions of dollars annually.

    Dying trees in our parks, yards, and along city streets, as well as stunted agricultural products, should be of vital concern to the average citizen. has links to research, and photographs of typical damage. People need to know!

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    New Zealand –

    A slow-moving trough which brought moderate rain yesterday was expected to strengthen overnight, bringing 300mm to 400mm of rain in some places.

    MetService forecaster Allister Gorman said: “Those are substantial numbers.”

  5. Colorado Bob says:

    Bangkok Post : 18 dive sites closed to save coral reefs

    Up to 90% of coral in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea has been bleached.

    The department chief said he could not say how long the dive sites would be closed but diving activities probably would be banned until the end of the monsoon season in October.

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    Reefs reeling from Queensland floods

    Dr Alison Jones, from Central Queensland University in Rockhampton, has seen first-hand the impact of the floods on corals in Keppel Bay.

    “You can’t see anything at all from above,” she said.

    “As you take the camera down, it looks like a big brown soupy mess.

    “Deeper down the water is a bit clearer and you can see bleached white [coral] colonies appearing out of the gloom.”

    Dr Jones checked five islands and found stressed coral around all of them.

    “Halfway Island was much worse than North Keppel. It was just dead coral, killed by the fresh water,” she said.

    “There wasn’t really a single thing alive.

    “There also seems to be some temperature bleaching, believe it or not, from the ocean being warm, which is completely unrelated to the flooding.”

  7. Colorado Bob says:

    Coral marches to the poles

    Sammarco is convinced that a new ‘hypertropical’ region will develop in the middle of today’s tropical oceans, in which higher temperatures will bring a new ecology. “I’m predicting pretty much total extinction of corals in that zone,” he says. The fact that corals have been spotted moving house isn’t unexpected, he says, and gives hope for their survival. But the moves are still likely to be disruptive, says Yamano. “For corals it is good news, but for ecosystems, maybe not.”

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    J.E.N. Veron was once the chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science. He’s the author of numerous books on coral reefs, but perhaps the most important book (as well as the most emotionally devastating), is his latest book, A Reef in Time: The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End.

    Veron has gone even deeper though. He’s looked at the last four mass extinction events of planet earth, and after each coral reefs disappeared. And they stayed gone for millions of years. Long after the climactic conditions had returned to benign levels. So once the Great Barrier Reef, the largest structure on Earth ever made by life, is gone (and it will be gone, according to Veron), it will not be coming back for millions of years. And in millions of years, we may not be here, so appreciate the reefs while they exist now.

  9. Colorado Bob says:

    Nepal blames low rainfall for rolling power cuts

    “There is more rain in summer,” he explained, which allows the country’s hydroelectric dams to produce around 780 megawatts. But in winter, Nepal’s dry season, “the level goes down so we can only produce about 250 megawatts,” he said.

    In recent years “the climate change has contributed to the receding water level,” making the problem worse than usual, he said.,rainfall-rolling-power-cuts.html

  10. Lou Grinzo says:

    I am constantly amazed by how humanity latches onto one or two ideas, often at the expense of missing the urgency of something else right in front of us. The paltry attention that ocean acidification has received to date is a classic example. Yes, yes, I know — we can only deal with one Big Problem at a time. We had better learn to multitask a hell of a lot better or we’re in some serious trouble.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Colorado Bob #6. I love how Dr Jones has learned the denialist mantra of the hour it’s ‘..completely unrelated’. Her observation that warm sea temperatures are (let’s hear it!) COMPLETELY UNRELATED to the flooding shows that she is either no climatologist or hydrologist, or that she is angling for a job with some arm of the denialist industry, or she’s just not thinking. The by now ritual chanting of ‘completely unrelated’ by Dunning-Krugerites and their thought controllers in regard to anthropogenic climate change and the continuing flood disaster shows just how brisk is the Pavlovian reflex in communities relentlessly brainwashed by the Rightwing media.

  12. Gail #3,

    Thanks so much for your ozone website. I had been noticing an increasing amount of “scraggly” ponderosa pines in the Black Hills, including yellowing needles, and had been assuming it was some type of beetle (Ips).

    The local media are hysterical about mountain pine beetles (originally called the Black Hills beetle, btw), considering the forest to be otherwise healthy, so just unleash the loggers and ban the treehuggers and all will be well.

    What I am seeing, especially among the larger, older pines, is exactly what you describe for the symptoms of ozone poisoning: thinning crowns, broken branches, yellowing needle clusters. But even small pines only a few inches in diameter are showing signs of anemic crowns and yellowing needles.

    I will have to rethink my whole approach to trying to educate the public about loss of forest ecosystems, but now I think you have pointed me in the right direction.

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    The end of The World: Dubai island development sinks back into sea after being scuppered by financial crisis

    But after the global financial crisis led to the collapse of the emirate’s home-building market, a unique development known as ‘The World’ is reportedly facing Armageddon.

    The project, a man-made archipelago designed to resemble a map of the planet, is facing disaster as its islands have begun sinking, a tribunal heard this week.

    The development, which sits a mile and a half from the mainland, is all but vacant after investors who bought up its ‘nations’ saw their finances collapse after the economic crash.

    A company that ferries people to the islands is now seeking to withdraw from its contract with Nakheel, developers of The World, due to a lack of business and the erosion of the islands’ sands.

    Property prices in the emirate have fallen 58 per cent from their peak in the fourth quarter of 2008

    Masdar City will become the new Dubai.

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    Mulga –

    Funny , I read the passage as :
    While observing the effects of the flood she found bleaching as a result of warm waters, and that bleaching wasn’t related to the flood in and of it’s self.

  15. Colorado Bob says:

    New Zealand –
    The MetService has issued a severe weather warning and is continuing to forecast another 200mm to 300mm for the Bay of Plenty. At this stage the Council has recorded rainfall levels across the region of up to 150mm.

    Rainfall averages for the past 24 hours are:
    • Tauranga/Western Bay of Plenty 100mm (intensity of about 6mm per hour);
    • Rotorua 180mm (intensity of about 15mm per hour);
    • Whakatāne 120mm (intensity of about 6mm per hour);
    • Rangitāiki Plains 230mm (inte nsity of about 15mm per hour); and
    • Ōpōtiki 90mm (intensity of about 5mm per hour).

  16. Mike Roddy says:

    We spend a lot of time justifiably criticizing the press. Here’s a really good global warming article, from the LA Times’ Margot Roosevelt. This is better than anything you’ll ever read in NYT or the rest of them:,0,5134908.story

    Let’s send praise to her editors, who are no doubt being besieged by the deniers over this. Roosevelt is highly regarded, but nobody is safe. Olbermann just got fired, and Maddow is probably in their sights.

  17. Leif says:

    Thanks for the “heads up” Mike. A question comes to mind. As the surface snow and ice melt would that not concentrate the soot particles on the surface over the years? Ever darkening the ice caps. Bringing soot and dust to the surface like the meteorites of the dry glaciers of the Antarctic.

  18. BBHY says:

    Mike Roddy,

    Thanks for the link. That is a fine article. Just a warning, head vise required before reading the comments that follow.

  19. Colorado Bob says:

    Mike Roddy ….. Ditto about the link. My new comment about deniers and their money mantra :

    Taxes and Climate Change –

    For over 30 years one of the predictions of AGW has been more extreme rain events. The Australians are about to impose a “Flood Tax”, to help cover the 30 Billion dollar flood bill they are getting now.

  20. Colorado Bob says:

    Scripps deal could change climate policies

    With a deal announced in mid-January, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla has launched itself into a new era of measuring, one that might change how agencies and companies around the world respond to climate change.

    The institution, part of the University of California San Diego, has partnered with Maryland-based Earth Networks to deploy 100 greenhouse-gas sensors around the world in what they call the most comprehensive attempt of its kind.

  21. Paulm says:

    don’t you just love nukes….

    Nuclear power generators will face £1bn in clean-up costs after an accident
    At present any operator of a nuclear site only has to pay the first £140m towards clean-up costs with the taxpayer contributing the rest

  22. I like that Ira Flatow put this program together and demonstrated the overwhelming evidence of AGW. However, while the panel alluded to solutions like Cap and Trade and a Price on Carbon Emissions, these points were buried in scientific detail. Each of the panel members is an expert at the pinnacle of their career, but none of them brought home the message that mitigation is cheaper and more effective than adaptation, in so many words.

    This point about mitigation being nearly zero net cost (in the long run) and very effective in averting the extremely expensive alternatives requiring adaptation is being made by Joe Romm nearly every day. The problem is that an investment needs to be made now for a continual return to begin in the 5-, 10-, and 20-year timeframe. The benefits are beyond the typical quarterly and annual report cycle, so few investors are willing to undertake the risk. Few companies (almost none) can commit to a payback on that timescale. Governments are in the best position to encourage investment now for a societal return on those timescales. This is a global infrastructure issue, similar to the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act of 1956 ( ). Perhaps couching the solution in National Defense terms would be more effective messaging in trying to convert Republicans to act, as it was in 1956. Many military leaders support mitigation and clean energy; let’s make common cause with them (or anyone else who can bridge the gap). I know that Joe has made these points before, but “Changing Climate Means Changing Oceans” buried the lede on what action must occur to avert the terrible effects and adaptations that they describe as a panel.

    The best point on integrating the science into action was this:

    “Ms. LOWEN: But I think in a way maybe that’s the problem, the communication from the scientific community. So what’s the next step? What’s the link between the public and the scientific community?

    “Dr. LEINEN: I think we need to paint a different picture about what the future will be. And the picture shouldn’t be, we’re going to take away everything that you have grown accustomed to in your lifestyle. You will have a different lifestyle based on energy that will be much cheaper, that will be much cleaner. Why would you want to use a dirty – a polluting fuel when you could have a different kind of energy?

    “And we’re going to give you a better environment for you and for your children. Rather than emphasize the negative, rather than scold people about choices that they have not had a lot of ability to make, to paint a different picture and to say it’s taken us, you know, 100, 150 years to get here. We’re not going to get out of it in five, but let’s start turning around. Let’s go in a different direction.”

    My companies are working on this very issue, but we are tiny and the problem is huge. I tell my students that the opportunity is huge. “Every time you see a problem, think OPPORTUNITY” is what I tell them, but it is hard not to get discouraged in the current political climate. One side is extremely effective in promoting denial from a thousand points of attack, while the other side is fractious about Carbon Tax vs. Cap & Trade vs. RES vs. CLEAN Contracts vs. INSERT YOUR FAVORITE HERE. The main source of hope is in California with AB 32 and the defeat of Ptop 23, along with RGGI in the northeast of the U.S. ( ) and the Western Climate Initiative ( ) and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord ( ). These initiatives are timid and regional, but they include 23 states.

    There is a need for experts from these regions to inform the mid-south and southeast of the nation about progress and coordination of efforts. If a climate science expert is willing to address a class of business students in Fayetteville, AR, this semester, please contact me through my website. I would like to make common cause on a mid-south regional basis. Arkansas had a Governor’s Commision on Global Warming ( ), but few of the recommendations were adopted by the legislature. We need to educate and stimulate scientific discussions as publicly as possible. States like Arkansas must be included in more public events conducted by the leading climate scientists. Dr. Marilyn Brown is speaking at an event in Little Rock tomorrow about Renewable Energy in the South” ( ). However, more such events are needed to influence policy in states reluctant to create their own RPS/RES. One organization to contact if a scientist is willing to speak in Arkansas is the sponsor of tomorrow’s event, Arkansas Business Leaders for a Clean Energy Economy ( ). These events must be in every state and frequent enough to stimulate public discussion on the benefits of mitigation over adaptation.

    Twenty-nine states have an RPS and another 7 have GHG goals ( ). Unfortunately, coordinating scientists to influence science policy in the political arena is like herding cats. The best hope for developing a coherent national voice is through blogs like this one and Skeptical Science ( ). However, in many states the scientific discussion must be joined in earnest very publicly. Appearing in Washington, DC, is not sufficient and is not working. The message there gets diluted with all of the other issues fighting for media time. The key will be going out to educate in the hinterlands, where opinion and votes are formed.