February 15, 2005

Warming Oceans

Climate scientists have predicted a number of changes to our world as a result of global warming including melting permafrost, disappearing glaciers and more erratic weather patterns. Each of these predictions that are now manifesting makes most observers believe that global warming is a real and growing threat.

But there are other signs that global warming is here and although unpredicted, the consequences are shaping our world today. One of the more worrying effects is what is happening in our oceans. As the oceans get warmer, we see significant population loss of seabirds. And the loss of birds is just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak). Recently, we've seen the decimation of huge breeding colonies of guillemots and shearwaters in northern Scotland due to the warming oceans. Here is one more sign that things are going out of whack. Scientists have tracked down the collapse of the seabird populations to the decrease in the numbers of sandeels.

The importance of plankton and the sandeels wasn't something that scientists necessarily knew to look for when they were building their climate change models. And just as they didn't know how this piece of the puzzle fit, there are many other surprises awaiting us as we proceed into this brave new world.

In talking to scientists while researching this article, I was continually surprised at how little we know about marine life. Most of our knowledge comes through what we can conveniently count -- fish catches brought to our dinner plates over past decades, or the numbers of seals and seabirds visible from beaches. Even though oceans cover 71 percent of the world's surface, few humans venture far from the coasts, and even fewer explore deeper than 100 feet down. Scientists therefore face difficulties in studying our warmed and warming seas. They have no baseline -- no pre-climate change census -- against which to systematically measure population shifts and declines. Nor do they understand the interrelationships within deep-sea ecosystems well enough to predict how those systems will respond to mounting human pressures.

So many unintended consequences await humans as we face the new world we are creating. Too bad we haven't really decided that we need to do anything to mitigate the affects.

Posted by Mary at February 15, 2005 01:00 AM | Environment | Technorati links |

Not as long as there are junk scientists willing to back Bush's agenda.

Posted by: Karen at February 15, 2005 03:39 PM

Absolutely. What can we, as individuals, do?
1 - Moderate the thermostat. 65 or so in winter, 85 or so in summer. It doesn't hurt.
2 - Use less of everything. One napkin at lunch. One paper towl in the bathroom. Easy.

Use common sense. Reducing one's footprint isn't so hard. C'mon, people. The planet and its lives depend on us.

Posted by: Patrick at February 16, 2005 08:53 PM

Re. What can we, as individuals, do?

I cut my electricty and gasoline in use by 50% relative to 5 years ago, but that might be because I had a bad refrigerator and cars five years ago :-/

I think there are lots of good efficient cars out there, I won't go into those.

On the electricity side, I bought a "Kill-A-Watt" montior for around $30. It was partly to be frugal and green, but it is a fun gizmo in itself (if you are into that kind of thing).

The Kill-A-Watt is what told me that my old fridge wasn't as good as I thought it was (as well as which seldom-used appliances needed to be unplugged, to stop their trickle drain).

link to kill-a-watts on froogle

Posted by: jjens at February 18, 2005 06:49 AM