Leaving Our Geological Mark
[Via The Loom]
The warming climate may earn carbon dioxide all the headlines (including ones about senators who can’t tell the difference between a couple blizzards and a 130-year climate record), but the gas is having another effect that’s less familiar but no less devastating. Some of the carbon dioxide we pump into the air gets sucked into the ocean, where it lowers the pH of seawater.
This is a key aspect of the increase in CO2 and its effects on the globe. Warming is one thing, but making the oceans more acidic could have even bigger impacts.
The report discussed says that the oceans are acidifying 10 times faster than they did during one of the most massive die-offs of marine life – a die-off that has been blamed on acidification of the oceans – the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.
Acid waters means the shells of plankton do not form properly. Without the plankton, the entire food chain can break down.
The PETM mainly affected deep water plankton. The current report indicates that shallow water plankton could also be affected.
It is likely that a couple of the big pulses of carbon found in the atmosphere during the 10,000 years or so of the PETM came from methane being released by the warming oceans. With the increases we are seeing, such methane release could happen in decades now, increasing the greenhouse effect substantially.
The tipping point for methane outgassing is not well known but it is a given that with enough warming, it will happen. Estimates of the amount of methane that could be released could very well be close to the amount used in this study (2.1 trillion tons of carbon). Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, about 72 times stronger than CO2. So a major, rapid release of methane would have staggering impact.
Not a report that makes one feel that ‘business as usual’ is the way to go.