Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Coral Reefs Dying

In case you're wondering, Gore talked about this too:

For decades, scientists have viewed the oceans' absorption of carbon dioxide as an environmental plus, because it mitigates the effects of global warming. But by taking up one-third of the atmosphere's carbon dioxide -- much of which stems from exhaust from automobiles, power plants and other industrial sources -- oceans are transforming their pH level.

Scientists expect ocean pH levels to drop by another 0.3 units by 2100, which could seriously damage marine creatures that need calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons. Once absorbed in seawater, carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid and lowers ocean pH, making it harder for corals, plankton and tiny marine snails (called pteropods) to form their body parts.

"What we're doing in the next decade will affect our oceans for millions of years," Caldeira said. "CO2 levels are going up extremely rapidly, and it's overwhelming our marine systems."

Caldeira has mapped out where corals exist today and the pH levels of the water in which they thrive; by the end of the century, no seawater will be as alkaline as where they live now. If carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current levels, he said, "It's say goodbye' to coral reefs.

By the way, Robert J. Samuelson has a point in his deeply pessimistic column about the solution to global warming being an engineering problem. But without turning global warming into something approaching a moral crusade (or at least the dire threat to our existence that many people take terrorism to be) then we won't utilize the incredible resources at hand to even begin to solve the problem. So in that sense, he completely misses the point.

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