12 June 2009

An Ocean of Neglect

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Icebergs Near Greenland (Dan's Pic)

Icebergs Near Greenland (Dan's Pic)

There has been a lot of climate science published in regards to Oceans lately. The acidification of ocean water due to increased levels of CO2 is finally getting the coverage it should have had two or three years ago.

Ocean chemistry is complex, and just how quickly the Ph will drop in sea water is uncertain. It’s already dropped significantly and there is growing evidence that this happened several times in the deep past on Earth. Currently Ocean Ph is about 8.10 compared to 8.18 in the 1700’s. Ph is a logarithmic scale, so a drop of one point is a lot.

For those not frightened of a little chemistry, a good explanation of the buffering of sea water can be found here. Human blood is buffered the same way.

Make no mistake, the oceans are the life blood of this planet. Any weather forecast model that does not take the Ocean/atmosphere interaction into account will not make decent forecasts beyond a day or two into the future.

Much work is underway to improve the physics in these models. However, It’s extremely difficult to put this kind of interaction into expressions of math, that can then run, in a Numerical Weather or Climate model.

So how can the plight of our life giving oceans be brought to the attention of the public?

Many have said that it was Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth that finally did that for climate change. I’m not completely convinced this was the best way to do it.  For some reason, those who deny climate change, just cannot stand Al Gore!

If you go to a web site about climate, and it says something about Al Gore in the first paragraph, you are very unlikely to be getting science. Just politics. I really wonder if Al Gore was not associated with Climate change, would these people be less skeptical. Probably.

The same is true for emails I receive when I write, or air something on climate change. Complainers will inevitably mention Gore in the first paragraph, and usually the first line!  In truth, the results have been good, and Gore does an admirable job (IMHO) of explaining the science in the film.

I actually had a chance to see the beginnings of his movie. In 1997 I was invited along with some other Meteorologists to the White House. After Meeting both President Clinton and V.P. Gore, we went to the East Room, and Mr. Gore spent 45 mins. talking about climate with slides and all. I told my wife at the time, that Al Gore missed his calling in life. He should have been a scientist! I had never seen a politician who “got science” so well!

Guess you could say he found his calling after all! I rarely mention Gore here, because it will guarantee a slew of emails. He would have made a great scientist though! (Heck, he already uses a Mac 😉 )

A new film is coming out about the oceans, and while I have not seen it, I hear very good things. The trailer is on you tube and I have embedded it below. The movie is called END OF THE LINE, and is about overfishing, and the general state of our oceans.

The oceans are absorbing about half of the CO2 we put into the atmosphere each year. At some point they are predicted to stop taking in as much. That will be bad news indeed if we do not switch away from fossil fuels.

Some recent papers are indicating that this slow down may very well be underway. The Oceans have also kept the globe from warming as much as it would have in the past century. Eventually that heat will come back out. About a another degree.  If you have already seen the movie, drop me an email!