Last weekend as I went to get a coffee, I watched a gentleman behind me in line waiting his turn, select a few pastries for his breakfast, and wait for his drink. At this point I left the shop to board my car and noticed that the truck that was parked next to it was running.
This vehicle was without exaggeration twice the size of my car. I couldn’t help thinking about how much gas was burned for no reason. This was not the first time I had observed this, I see it all the time: cars and trucks running while their drivers are off shopping, chatting, or even working on a project.
While I wonder why anyone would want to pay for the gas burned without any benefit to the user, there is also the issue of pollution. It is one thing to use fossil resources for a legitimate need, but to waste them states a certain carelessness regarding the future.
While I believe we will find solutions for the pending oil shortage on this planet, there is the ongoing increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere that should be of concern to each of us.
If you read less news about the concerns of ocean acidification than a year or two ago, it is not because the threat has lessened.
It is a natural feature of news, that when they get old, they are not printed anymore. Yet, when I asked a group of high school students last week if they knew what ocean acidification meant, only two of ten raised their hand. This is not any fault of the students but rather shows that we still have a lot of education to do on this subject.
Any burning process releases carbon dioxide. Thus, any time we start the engine of a car, a boat, a lawn mower, an airplane, or four wheeler, any time we use fuel, gas, or oil we directly release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere around us.
Some of this carbon dioxide is used by plants to grow, but a steady increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations has been measured since the start of the industrial revolution. Why? Because when we use fossil fuels, we add a carbon source that rested sequestered for millions of years and was not part of the natural carbon dioxide-oxygen cycle.
Over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is water. At the ocean surface, carbon dioxide dissolves into the water and is released from the water in a continuous gas exchange. Changing the concentration on one side of this process, namely more carbon dioxide in the air over the water means that more gets dissolved into the ocean.
In addition, the many minute microscopic algae living in the surface waters of the ocean take up some of this carbon dioxide, so that the water can accept even more from the air.
Some articles on this subject claim that the world ocean has absorbed as much as half of all human-made carbon dioxide.
This changes the ocean chemistry. Carbon dioxide in water forms carbonic acid, making the ocean more acidic. This does not mean that the ocean is an acid - it is not. However, the increased presence of carbonic acid puts a stress on shell bearing animals like crabs, clams, sea urchins, and many more. Carbonic acid steals away and binds the calcium compounds needed to build shells.
Let’s compare the situation with a grocery store. Every week when you go shopping, the groceries get a little more expensive and there are fewer things on the shelves.
At the beginning you may not notice this too much, but after a while you have to make changes to deal with this situation.
To avoid serious harm to your bank account you start leaving out certain things. You might leave out certain foods, even though they would be better for your health.
The same reaction goes for animals like sea urchins as they face a shortage of the calcium compounds they need to form their shells. In the lab, sea urchin larvae raised in more acidic seawater build shorter spines than those raised in the less acidic control treatment.
Crab larvae have slower growth when dealing with acidified water. In the wild, both of these reactions would make young animals more likely to get eaten by a predator.
Just like Alaska has higher grocery costs compared to other places in the US, our shell building ocean creatures face higher costs of living compared to areas farther south.
Upwelling of deep water in the North Pacific provides us with cold, nutrient rich, but already carbon dioxide loaded water, which reaches the surface and takes up more carbon dioxide, because cold water can hold on to gases much better than warmer water (try leaving a glass of cold and warm soda on the counter and see which goes stale faster).
Far from being old news, ocean acidification continues to depress the carbon economy of Alaska’s ocean and the least we can do is turn off our trucks when we get coffee.