Acid burn: how ocean acidity might make climate change worse

All opinions my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

I was at the University District Farmer’s market this past weekend, thinking about making paella, and so I stopped by the shellfish booth and bought a pound of clams.  As I wandered around, looking for some tomatoes and onions, I swung my canvas bag, now heavy with thick-shelled Manila clams, and thought back to some time I spent in Spain during my first postdoc.  That’s when I learned to make paella.  That’s also where I studied calcification in the green alga Acetabularia acetabulum, which grows thick in the shallows of the waters of the Mediterranean.

Calcification is the process of depositing calcium carbonate along, within or around a biological structure.  It’s an important process in the oceans, contributing to ecological roles like protection via the shells of mollusks like the clams in my bag.  And it’s getting harder to do for ocean creatures to do because the oceans are becoming more acidic. Continue reading

Finding an Alka Seltzer for the oceans

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk
Some time ago I wrote an article for Real Change (reposted here) about research being done at the University of Washington to understand the effects of ocean acidification due to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.  The rising pH of the oceans is another one in my list of things we don’t worry enough about with climate change but really should.  Like the bees.  It’s such a seemingly tiny, subtle thing.  The measured decrease in pH of maybe 0.1 units is due to ocean waters absorbing atmospheric CO2 and the resulting conversion of some of that to carbonic acid.  Seems small but it’s really a big deal.
Scientists have documented apparent effects of ocean acidity on coral reefs and oysters, among other organisms (abstracts from links; articles behind paywalls), and while oyster farmers can try to add antacids to their spawning beds, the oceans as a whole are a bit large for a local solution.  Which is why I was excited to see the Paul Allen Family Foundation post the current submissions to their Ocean Challenge (HT @deirdrelockwood).
Let me provide a disclaimer that I have not read most of these proposals in depth.  However, scanning through the titles and sampling a few in greater detail, it’s clear that the Ocean Challenge has prompted a number of groups to come up with ideas about how to try and monitor, test, and mitigate the effects of ocean acidification, at least at the local level and in some cases on a grander scale.  The proposals are available online for public comment, and finalists selected in September.
There are a couple of things to really like about this.   All the proposal summaries are devoid of names and affiliations, which may lead to more unbiased evaluations by public commentators.  This is something that’s been debated for years with respect to other granting agencies like the NIH.  Another great thing is that this is open–anyone can apply and everyone’s ideas are out there for others to learn from, debate, and expand upon.  I’m a fan of open source science, and transparency, and this feels like it’s in that vein.  And last, this is really a big problem.  Not to say government agencies aren’t funding and studying this, but as we’ve seen with other private non-profit foundations like the Gates Foundation, there is a third way beyond government and private industry to try and effect policy and make changes.  I hope for success from this effort.  Because I would really miss oysters.