Not everyone likes changes and not all changes are likeable.
Several people that I know cannot stand routine and are always seeking opportunities that will alter and disrupt their everyday lives. I confess to be a committed representative of this group. On the other hand, I know of people that despise changes, find peace in routines and love their comfort zone. Some of my very favorite people in the world belong in this group.
Admittedly, in both cases, changes either include the promising potential of a better situation than the current, or threaten to cause decline, pain and in some cases disaster. The risk of a change varies in a wide spectrum depending on each case, and naturally, some people/organisms are more favorable or resilient to risks than others are.
Affected by the impact of the latest politico-socio-economical changes to the Greek people, and inspired by Samara’s older post on climate change and the effects on human communities, I decided to write about the impacts of climate change on the marine environment and particularly its organisms. Since a song tells a better story, bear with me for the lyrics I wrote and follow later on this post.
The North Pacific is the area that this post focuses on (it is also my main study area) and is experiencing intense environmental changes with evident consequences to both the marine and terrestrial ecosystems. U. S. temperatures have increased between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees, mostly since 1970 and this change is affecting everyone. Agriculture and water management suffer from extreme droughts and increased flooding; human health and relocations face the increasing issue of climate change migration; energy demands increase and fossil fuel supplies decrease, encouraging resource wars; forests suffer longer wildfire seasons; marine ecosystems respond with the animals expanding their distribution north or experiencing massive die offs.
The Californian year round warm climate has been my personal subject of envy the last three years while soaking under the Oregonian mist/rain. Even though the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, in this literal case (where fence=Oregon-California border) the opposite is true. Higher rates and longer droughts are affecting dramatically our southern neighbors with corresponding financial consequences.
Were you wondering why lately the Californian huge cars do not shine as they used to? Why Californians have to let their signature emerald yawns go brown? The state is going through the driest period of its history. Cactus and rock gardens now sound like a great idea. Talking about ideas, the San Francisco’s Department of the Environment recently staged an “Ugliest Yard” competition to encourage more water saving.
Even though studies are inconclusive about the drought been caused by climate change, the drought’s effects are probably more evident and severe because of global warming increasing temperatures on land.
Nevertheless, the trouble does not stay only on land.
Unusually high seawater temperatures at the coast of California are changing the behaviors of different marine species. Whole fish communities strand dead on the shore and so do thousands of seal pups.
Recent toxic algal blooms at the Monterey Bay caused impressive numbers of fish to die and dead anchovies covered big areas of the coast. Even though similar events are regularly recorded during summer months, this year’s events appears to be the most intense and severe ever recorded. Climate change is inculpated for increased frequency and severity of such phenomena. Higher temperatures and less mixing of the ocean water masses, traps nutrient rich water and toxic algae in a narrow coastal zone and induces the occurrence of algal toxic blooms. Sea birds, fish, and marine mammals, consume the toxic algae and the food chain is immediately impacted. Man is part of the food chain and for this reason big part of the West Coast shellfish fisheries has closed for safety precautions. Washington, for first time, had to close the coast to Dungeness crab harvesting. Among many, you can imagine the financial cost of such a result.
Undoubtedly, the Pacific marine ecosystem is suffering from unusual weather records. The number of sea lion pups found dead on the California coast is continuously increasing, with about 2000 of them having washed up the last 6 months. The pups starve to death or die in their premature effort to look for food on their own. Their moms have to leave them for long periods to travel to distant cooler and more productive waters to forage. Often they do not obtain enough energy from foraging, for either self-maintenance or lactation, and they struggle to support their pup.
On the North, Arctic air temperatures are increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the world with consequent increase of the sea temperature. The Arctic ice sheet and glaciers are melting faster than ever, affecting different marine organisms and particularly mammal species. A typical dramatic example is the one of the polar bears who are on the edge of extinction since the edge of the ice where they forage is constantly withdrawing and that seriously diminishes their ability to find food. The polar bears belong to the ‘‘ice-obligate’’ species that rely on sea ice as a platform for resting, breeding, and/or hunting. Thus, reductions in sea ice remove their hunting and resting platforms.
A baby effect causes adult troubles
Studies suggest that El Nino (means “the baby” in Spanish and refers to baby Jesus because in South America it typically occurs around Christmas) events are intensified and become more frequent because of the global warming. El Nino forms by the high-pressure system in the western Pacific and the lower pressure system in the eastern part. This pressure gradient and the weakening trade winds (the winds that travel from the east to the west along the tropics) cause a pool of warm water to expand eastwards to the west coast of the Americas. In turn, these high sea surface temperatures cause decrease in primary productivity, chlorophyll, plankton and fish communities, since warm water tends to carry less oxygen and is less “fertile” ground for the ocean life. The El Nino that occurred in 1998 is characterized as “the climatic event of the 20th century” with severe effects on the ecosystems and human communities.
The Wind of Climate Change is track #1andOnly on the album Moment of Worry. Inspired by the song Wind of Change by the band Scorpions and appeared in their album Moment of Glory.
Interestingly the original song became a hit in January 1991 when the Soviet Union was going through some historic changes…
Listen to the original song while you read my lyrics. Do not miss my imaginative rhyming!
The Wind of Climate Change – Lyrics
I hear the sea lions bark
Down to Santa Barbara
Contemplating the effects of climate change
Eyes stop being dry
When seal pups don’t survive
Affected by climate-driven change
The ocean is warming
Did you hear about the krill
Whales struggle to feed, through trophic levels
El Nino is not a flare
Is challenging this era
Weakening the winds of trade (remember 1998)
Show me the time series to follow
In the absence of light
Where the sardines and the herring tend to stay, (tend to stay)
For the whales to find prey
Searching for quarry to eat
On melting ice-sheets
Polar bears will not cease to endeavor
I hear whales buzz
Down the deep ocean
Echolocating in the short range
Show me the environmental component
Of the climate change fight
For the seals cause me sorrow to strand on bays (strand on bays)
Their moms flee
The trophic cascade occurs
From shifts in oceanographic regime
Weakened upwelling, ecosystems being unwell
Brings on chlorophyll decline
Deepens the thermocline in spring
The anchovies at warm won’t play
Show me the environmental component,
Of the climate change fight
For the seals cause me sorrow to strand on bays (strand on bays)
Ocean is warm and strange (warm and strange)
Since we are in the merge of science and art, acoustics and visual, check out this video that captures the effects of high rated climate variability in the poles. The glaciers of Greenland, Nepal, and Alaska are depleting by the hour.
Whether we are talking about a drought in California, thousands of dead sea lion pups, skinny polar bears, record aggregations of Walruses, attributing a single event to climate change is certainly under discussion and often subject of scientific controversy. The human-caused global warming and its serious impacts however, are not.
The same time, U.S. faces a serious issue with a significant number of climate change deniers who are particularly aggressive against the climate scientists and relevant policy. To explain that, Jeffrey Kiehl (senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research) implemented a long psychological study and concluded that:
Consumption and growth have become so central to our sense of personal identity and the fear of economic loss creates such numbing anxiety, we literally cannot imagine making the necessary changes.
His results seem to be applicable in other cases of crisis than just environmental.
Jason Box said: “It’s unethical to bankrupt the environment of this planet”.
All the choices we make every day affect ourselves, people around us, and the environment. Whether it is choosing what type of dish detergent to use, choosing a political party, or choosing whether to drive or bike, ethics play a factor in the morality applied to these decisions.
Ethics is part of a responsible scientist’s work. At least it should be. Ethics is part of everyone’s everyday life and decisions.