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Posts Tagged ‘oceans’

New Ocean Scorecard Gives World a 60%

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 29, 2012

By TARA THEAN

We live in a world obsessed with numbers – college rankings, baseball scores, exam results – and now we have one to tell us what’s happening to our oceans.

According to a study outlining the first results of the Ocean Health Index, recently founded by Conservation International and other organizations, the entire world’s oceans score 60 out of a hundred for their ability to deliver benefits to both nature and people. Individual country scores range from 36 to 86, with the U.S. chalking up a 63 and China following behind with a 53. A paltry 5 percent of countries hit the 70 point mark, while 32 percent lingered below 50. And, as might be expected, developed countries generally did better than developing countries, thanks to their more robust economies and greater capacity for environmental stewardship (though Poland and Singapore scored a relatively pitiful 42 and 48 respectively).

(MORE: Why Romney’s Energy Independence Pledge Is Half-Baked)

That’s a lot of numbers, but the science behind them is fascinating, largely because the architects of the Ocean Health Index have made huge efforts to account for the world’s astonishing complexity in their calculations. First of all, the index doesn’t simply lump together science-driven metrics of ocean health like water pH and carbon dioxide levels. Rather, it zones in on ten vital ways in which nature and humans rely on the seas, including biodiversity, food, tourism, and even “sense of place,” and then examines how well the oceans are able to deliver those things. To do this, the researchers assign a score to each of their ten measures for the oceans they examine, and find the index score based on the weighted sum of these individual scores. They make sure to include in their ratings the status of each measure as it stands right now as well as what it might be in the future based on a mathematical model. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sea Changes: Ocean Acidification Is Worse Than It’s Been for 300 Million Years

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on March 3, 2012

Oxford Scientific / Getty Images

OXFORD SCIENTIFIC / GETTY IMAGES
White coral skeleton, Cocos Island, Pacific Ocean. Such coral bleaching events are one consequence of ocean acidification

Human beings doing unprecedented things to the Earth, which is sort of impressive when you realize that the planet has existed for more than 4.5 billion years. But that’s what happens when 7 billion people produce and consume more and more stuff, emitting enormous amounts of gases like carbon dioxide and generally making of muck of things for everyone else.

Take the oceans. Researchers already know that the seas are becoming more acidic, thanks largely to the increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon. (Much of the carbon in the air is absorbed by the oceans—think of the fizz in a soda can—which over time makes them more acidic.) Over the last hundred years, the ocean pH—which measures the relative acidity of a liquid—has fallen by 0.1 unit to 8.1 That may not sound like much, but according to a new study published in Science, it’s all but unprecedented. Ocean acidification is now almost certainly occurring faster than it has for at least 300 million years—and as the rate of manmade carbon emissions increases in the future, acidification will likely only accelerate. That will have dire effects on corals and other ocean life that will struggle to adapt to a marine environment that will be changing—by geological standards at least—at breakneck pace.

(SPECIAL: Saving Our Oceans)

Lead author Barbel Honisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University, put the situation in rather grim perspective:

What we’re doing today really stands out. We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out — new species evolved to replace those that died off. But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about — coral reefs, oysters, salmon.

The Science researchers reviewed hundreds of studies of paleoceanographic studies to try to get a consensus on how the pH levels of the ocean has changed over time. It’s a bit like paleontology—scientists have to look for fossils and other physical proxies to get a sense of how changing carbon levels in the atmosphere has affected the oceans. Read the rest of this entry »

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