Researchers Discover Planet’s Northernmost Coral Reef

Researchers have discovered the world's northermost coral reefs off Japan's Tsushima Island (Image: Kaoru Sugihara)

Researchers have discovered the world’s northermost coral reefs off Japan’s Tsushima Island (Image: Kaoru Sugihara)

Coral reefs are typically found in the warm, clear waters of the tropics and subtropics. Researchers in Japan have recently discovered a coral reef far north of any previously discovered on the planet, off the coast of Japan’s Tsushima Island at 34 degrees north latitude. As a reference, this would put the reef north of the city of Atlanta, Georgia. While cold water and deep water corals are found in polar regions, the types of reef-building corals discovered in Japan are generally much more sensitive to cold water and to cloudy or turbid waters, making this discovery all the more remarkable, especially in light of winter water temperatures of 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit), considered extremely low and most often fatal to most coral reefs. [Read more...]

Where Mercury in Fish Comes From and What Regulators are Doing About it

An Inconvienient Reality

Image by Nick Humphries via Flickr

Mercury in fish? Much of it comes from the sky. Coal-fired power plants emit tons of the toxic heavy metal into the atmosphere where it travels hundreds of miles before depositing on the surface of lakes, rivers and the oceans, where it is ingested and gradually works its way up to the top of the food chain where it becomes highly-concentrated in the flesh of the ocean’s predators, such as sharks, tunas, and dolphins.

The EPA issued a rule on mercury emissions, but there is now concern that they may weaken the ruling due to push back from electric utility companies. [Read more...]

Fertilizing the Oceans with Iron Sinks Carbon, But is it a Good Idea?

The Eddy and the Plankton

“The Eddy and the Plankton” A massive plankton bloom observed from space. (Image: NASA Earth Observatory via Flickr)

It’s a controversial idea that has been around for decades. Stimulate the growth of phytoplankton (plant plankton) in remote reaches of the oceans by fertilizing the oceans with iron. Previous studies concluded that such an approach would not be effective. However, the recent analysis of a 2004 ocean fertilization experiment in the Southern Ocean — published in the journal, Nature — shows that use of iron fertilization did stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, which sank into the deep sea after the algae died, serving as a “carbon sink” in the deep where the carbon would be held out of the atmosphere for centuries. [Read more...]

Rapid Rise of Ocean Acidity Surprises Scientists

Helpful

The speed with which acid levels have risen in the oceans has “caught scientists off-guard.” (Image by B Tal via Flickr)

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the speed with which acid levels have risen in the oceans has “caught scientists off-guard.” Ocean acidification was recently described by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco as climate change’s “equally evil twin,” representing one of the biggest threats to life in the oceans. Lubchenco warned that acidification amounts to “osteoporosis of the sea” and threatens coral reefs, food security, and tourism around the world.


Scientists initially assumed that the carbon dioxide absorbed by the water would be sufficiently diluted as the oceans?mixed shallow and deeper waters. But most of the carbon dioxide and the subsequent chemical changes are being concentrated in surface waters, Lubchenco said.

“And those surface waters are changing much more rapidly than initial calculations have suggested,” she said. “It’s yet another reason to be very seriously concerned about the amount of carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere now and the additional amount we continue to put out.”

Higher acidity levels are especially problematic for creatures such as oysters, because acid slows the growth of their shells. Experiments have shown other animals, such as clown fish, also suffer. In a study that mimicked the level of acidity scientists expect by the end of the century, clown fish began swimming toward predators, instead of away from them, because their sense of smell had been dulled.

…Read the full story at Ocean acidity increases surprise researchers – Christian Science Monitor

Coral Reefs Collapsed, then Recovered After 2,500 Years

Encouraging or Saddening?

Image by nashworld via Flickr

In a study led by Lauren T. Toth at Florida Institute of Technology published in the journal, Science, coral reef ecosystems in the tropical eastern Pacific “collapsed for 2500 years, representing as much as 40% of their history, beginning about 4000 years ago.” A series of powerful El Nino events, which include periods of significantly warmer ocean temperature every three to seven years, coincided with the 2,500-year period of coral decline. This was followed by a cycle of La Nina events characterized by much cooler water, beginning 3,200 to 3,800 years ago. Corals recovered during the millenia since but now face a return to extreme weather conditions like those that wiped them out, due to climate change impacts. [Read more...]

Hot Time at the Beach a Threat to Sea Turtles

Leatherback sea turtle/ Tinglar, USVI

Leatherback Sea Turtle in the U.S. Virgin Islands (Image by USFWS/Southeast via Flickr)

Already the most critically endangered of all sea turtle species thanks to poaching and fishing impacts, new research led by Dr. Vincent Saba, a research fishery biologist with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Northeast Fisheries Science Center, suggests that climate change could impede leatherback sea turtles’ ability to recover. [Read more...]

Sea Level on U.S. East Coast Rising Up to Four Times Global Average

Atlantic Ocean

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that sea level along the U.S. Atlantic coast — one of the world’s most densely-populated coastal regions including New York, Boston and Norfolk, Virginia — is rising up to four times faster than the global average.

Sea level along the 620-mile coastline has risen by two to 3.7 millimeters per year since 1990. However, as temperatures continue to rise, sea level could rise well beyond the one-meter rise predicted by scientists, by up to an additional 30 centimeters within the next 90 years. In comparison, the average global sea level rise over the same period was between 0.6 and one millimeter per year. [Read more...]

Emperor Penguins Disappearing Due to Climate Change

Emperor penguins enter the water in Antarctica (Image by StormPetrel1 via Flickr)

ScienceDaily reports that a study led by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, published in the June 20th, 2012 edition of the journal Global Change Biology, predicts that as global temperatures continue to rise, penguins in Terre Adelie, in East Antarctica, may eventually disappear. Emperor penguins are perhaps the best-known and most iconic of the Antarctic region and were featured in the popular film, March of the Penguins.

[Read more...]

Seagrass Protects Coral Reefs from Ocean Acidification

turtle grasses near Munson Rocks

The BBC reports on research pointing to the importance of seagrasses to protecting coral reefs against the impacts of ocean acidification, caused by carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions dissolving in seawater, causing unprecedented increases in the ocean’s acidity.

Dr. Richard Unsworth of Swansea University, along with a team of scientists from Oxford University and James Cook University in Australia, found several types of seagrass which may reduce the acidity of water around reefs, protecting them from erosion from acidifying seas. [Read more...]

Saving the Oceans from Acidification Starts With an End to Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Great Barrier Reef 008

We’ve described ocean acidification as potentially the “the gravest and most immediate planetary threat yet,” and as more and more research results become public, it appears that this threat is, indeed, every bit as potent as we had feared.Yet it has been a painfully slow process for ocean acidification to gain traction in the media and is still far from being a “mainstream” issue. So when the San Francisco Chronicle recently called for action to deal with the issue, we took notice. [Read more...]