The Blob — Brewing up Neurotoxins

Headlines all over this week about the warming ocean and the postponement of west coast crab season. A toxin in algae –domoic acid– has grown so fast, and deep that traces are being found in crab, shellfish, sardines and anchovies — and the critters that eat them, including humans.

The poisonous algae, multiplying since April, is now estimated to be 40 miles wide, in some places reaching down as far as two football fields, marine biologists say. It is the biggest and most toxic bloom researchers have ever seen.  SF Chronicle

As the NY Times put it the Pacific Ocean has become a caldron.  A 4 to 6 degree rise in seawater temperatures in large areas, some have dubbed “the blob,’ is having effects not seen in human history.

“The Blob” has been associated, among other effects, with the unusually dry and warm weather in the western United States. Out in the ocean, the nutrient-poor warmer waters of the Blob — about four degrees Fahrenheit higher than average — are disrupting the food web of marine life. Some species of fish are showing up where they are not expected, including tropical sunfish off the Alaska coast, and an unusual number of emaciated sea lion pups and Guadalupe fur seals are being found stranded on California shores.

Climate The Blob

Of course the Atlantic ocean has problems as well — and much the same. The cod populations off the coast of Maine are in serious decline — because of rising ocean temperatures.

Cod populations off New England are collapsing because waters [temperatures] of the Gulf of Maine have been rising 99 percent faster than anywhere else in the world since 2004, researchers say. Earthweek and National Geographic.

We could also go to the Indian Ocean / Gulf of Aden, where Tropical Cyclone Chapala hit Yemen, dumping ten years worth of rain during its passage, and bringing a storm surge into the coastal city, Mukalla, laying waste to large parts of the waterfront. First time in recorded history such a storm has landed here.  Earthweek.


Coral Reef Bleaching Continues Apace

Corals are turning chalk white and dying on reefs stretching from the Florida Keys to Palm Beach County, in what experts call one of the worst episodes in two decades of coral bleaching.

Climate Change fl-coral-bleaching

Under stress from unusually warm water, the corals are expelling the tiny bits of algae that give them their fiery streaks of red, orange or green color and that provide the coral with nutrition.

That’s today’s news from the SunSentinel similar to that of December, 2011


Here are comparison photos from America Samoa taken two months apart.


And in Hawaii, everybody’s favorite paradise?

Water temperatures around Hawaii are currently about 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, Chris Brenchley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, told the Associated Press.

According to the AP, [coral] bleaching has been spotted in Kaneohe Bay and Waimanalo on Oahu and Olowalu on Maui. On the Big Island, bleaching is reported from Kawaihae to South Kona on the leeward side and Kapoho in the southeast.

Courtney Couch, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told the AP that an entire mile and a half of reef on the eastern side of Lisianski Island was essentially dead.

Read more:

Plastic in the Pacific

The great Great Pacific Garbage Patch is certainly not News; we’ve known about it for years.  What is News is that it grows with little being done about it.

From Greenpeace

The most recent report comes from a fine young Dutch fellow, Boyan Slat, who has taken it on himself to organize, research and start cleaning it up.  His project is at TheOceanCleanUp.   He needs help, of course.

Scientists and volunteers who have spent the last month gathering data on how much plastic garbage is floating in the Pacific Ocean returned to San Francisco on Sunday and said most of the trash they found is in medium to large-sized pieces, as opposed to tiny ones.

Volunteer crews on 30 boats have been measuring the size and mapping the location of tons of plastic waste floating between the west coast and Hawaii that according to some estimates covers an area twice the size of Texas.

 … “It was a good illustration of why it is such an urgent thing to clean up, because if we don’t clean it up soon, then we’ll give the big plastic time to break into smaller and smaller pieces,” said Boyan Slat, who has developed a technology he says could start removing the garbage by 2020.

A 171ft mother ship carrying fishing nets, buckets, buoys and bottles, among other items, and two sailing boats with volunteers who helped collect the garbage samples arrived at San Francisco’s Piers 30-32

The Guardian

And more about Slat and his project at Eco-Business.

The World Will Not Be Your Oyster for Long

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the latest to realize that its famed oyster and clam harvests are increasingly at risk from risinc ocean acidity.

An August 15 front page above the fold article in the SF Chronicle laid out the ugly findings.

About 10 years ago, baby oysters, or spat, began to die at an alarming rate. Farms along the West Coast lost more than half of their bivalves before they reached maturity, creating a shortage of seed. That deficit hit Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall especially hard

… That culprit, ocean acidification, is the caustic cousin of climate change, and it shifts the chemistry of ocean water, making it harder for oysters to grow. That’s because about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, causing pH levels to plummet and making the water more acidic. The more pollution in the air, the more carbon dioxide the ocean absorbs.

climate change clams-hi

Back in February, regional newspapers from the Chesapeake Bay and New Orleans picked up on the new study from Nature Climate Change that ocean acidification was going to have major economic impact on their bi-valve farms and the communities that depended on them.

Climate Change Bi Valve Vulnerability


In 2012 a meeting of scientists in Monterey, California took up the issue.

In 2010, Science, the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science had a long scholarly article which, despite its academic restraint, was terrifying.

The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystem. 

Just for starters:

Recent studies indicate that rapidly rising greenhouse gas concentrations are driving ocean systems toward conditions not seen for millions of years, with an associated risk of fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation. The impacts of anthropogenic climate change so far include decreased ocean productivity, altered food web dynamics, reduced abundance of habitat-forming species, shifting species distributions, and a greater incidence of disease… [link]

Arctic Sea Ice Seasonal Max is Lowest Ever

From the BBC/Science

Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has fallen to the lowest recorded level for the winter season, according to US scientists.

The maximum this year was 14.5 million sq km, said the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

This is the lowest since 1979, when satellite records began.

A recent study found that Arctic sea ice had thinned by 65% between 1975 and 2012.

Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics said: “The gradual disappearance of ice at the poles is having profound consequences for people, animals and plants in the polar regions, as well as around the world, through sea level rise.”


Ocean Plastics Still a Scourge

California Congressmen Mike Honda and Sam Farr, hosted a tech-event in Washington D.C. the other day hoping to get some push behind the growing plastics-in-the-oceans problem.  Everything from throw away plastic medical supplies to six-pack beer rings contribute to wildlife death and ecosystem disruption every year.  More plastics have been generated in the last twenty years than in the entire century that proceeded it. The Honda/Farr event was designed to showcase alternative solutions to those embedded in plastics.

Rob Chase, founder of NewGen Surgical in San Rafael, is designing products made from the waste of sugar-cane harvests for hospital emergency rooms, where disposable plastic medical devices are the norm

Kevin L’Heureux, president of Fishbone Packaging in Santa Clarita (Los Angeles County), showed a photo of a turtle whose girth was squeezed to the size of a soda can by the plastic six-pack ring that had ensnared it when young. He has designed a paper six-pack holder that can break down in a home composter.

An estimated 8.8 million metric tons of plastic are added to the oceans each year — or about five grocery bags full of plastic litter for every foot of coastline in the world — said University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck

Aug. 11, 2009. Scripps Institution of Oceanography .  A patch of sea garbage at sea in the Pacific Ocean. ( Mario Aguilera/ AP)

Aug. 11, 2009. Scripps Institution of Oceanography . A patch of sea garbage at sea in the Pacific Ocean. ( Mario Aguilera/ AP)


Enormous Ocean Die Off and Hottest Year in Recorded History

Like kids playing with matches in a barn full of hay, we have been warned repeatedly.  But we just can’t quit.  Something about the excitement of risk, perhaps.  Now, again, it comes:

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science. … humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

Just a few examples:

Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming.

Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.

“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.”

Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years.  NY Times

Timeline of Defaunation

Timeline of Defaunation (click for full)

Humans have profoundly decreased the abundance of both large (e.g., whales) and small (e.g., anchovies) marine fauna. Such declines can generate waves of ecological change that travel both up and down ma­rine food webs and can alter ocean ecosystem functioning. Human harvesters have also been a major force of evolutionary change in the oceans and have reshaped the genetic structure of marine animal populations. Climate change threatens to accelerate marine defaunation over the next century.

Says the abstract at Science


And, methane emissions from the well-fed conferees at climate change conferences are adding to the warming problem…

Last year was the hottest in earth’s recorded history, scientists reported on Friday, underscoring scientific warnings about the risks of runaway emissions and undermining claims by climate-change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.

Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Several European countries set temperature records. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except around Antarctica, the scientists said, providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.

In the annals of climatology, 2014 now surpasses 2010 as the warmest year in a global temperature record that stretches back to 1880. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of the relentless planetary warming that scientists say is a consequence of human emissions …  NY Times

Rising Waters Sagging Cities

Walking in barefeet through three inches of water on a bayfront drive may seem like a lark to the young — once or twice in a childhood.  When that water comes in a dozen times, when cars can’t get through, when basements flood, when foundations begin to shift in muddy jelly, it’s no longer fun.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report today based on tidal gauges in 52 sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that not only show a marked increase in coastal flooding since the 1970s but project much more.

From the Executive Summary:

To analyze how often flooding now occurs at locations along the East and Gulf Coasts—and the frequency and extent of flooding that communities along these coasts can expect, on average, 15 and 30 years from now—we relied on 52 tidegauges from Portland, ME, to Freeport, TX. We limited our analysis to locations where flooding thresholds, defined at the gauges, correlate well with coastal flood advisories issued by the National Weather Service.

Annapolis, MD, in December 2012, when wind, rain, and high tides combined to cause disruptive flooding

Annapolis, MD, in December 2012, when wind, rain, and high tides combined to cause disruptive flooding

Our analysis shows that many East Coast communities now see dozens of tidal floods each year. Some of these communities have seen a fourfold increase in the annual number of days with tidal flooding since 1970.

Using a mid-range scenario for future sea level rise, we find that, by 2030, more than half of the 52 communities we analyzed on the East and Gulf Coasts can expect to average more than two dozen tidal floods per year. The rise in the frequency of tidal flooding by 2030 represents an extremely steep increase for some, and two-thirds could see a tripling or more in the number of high-tide floods each year.

Executive Summary

Al Jazeera has a good report

Or, as the Washington Post, eye on local concerns, has it:

Daily flooding caused by high tides will occur in the District and Annapolis within three decades as sea levels continue to rise due to global warming, a new study says

Seas Are Rising: Navy Norfolk In the Know

Coastal flooding has already become such a severe problem that Norfolk is spending millions to raise streets and improve drainage. Truly protecting the city could cost as much as $1 billion, money that Norfolk officials say they do not have. Norfolk’s mayor, Paul Fraim, made headlines a couple of years ago by acknowledging that some areas might eventually have to be abandoned.

Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, municipal planners want to know: How bad are things going to get, and how fast?

Sea Level Rise

Even if the global sea level rises only eight more inches by 2050, a moderate forecast, the Rutgers group foresees relative increases of 14 inches at bedrock locations like the Battery, and 15 inches along the New Jersey coastal plain, where the sediments are compressing. By 2100, they calculate, a global ocean rise of 28 inches would produce increases of 36 inches at the Battery and 39 inches on the coastal plain.

These numbers are profoundly threatening, and among the American public, the impulse toward denial is still strong. But in towns like Norfolk — where neighborhoods are already flooding repeatedly even in the absence of storms, and where some homes have become unsaleable — people are starting to pay attention.

“In the last couple or three years, there’s really been a change,” said William A. Stiles Jr., head of Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk environmental group. “What you get now is people saying, ‘I’m tired of driving through salt water on my way to work, and I need some solutions.’ ”

NY Times Science

So what, wondering minds want to know, is the Norfolk area Congressman, Scott Rigell (Va-2) doing about this?  Just about nada…here are some links to point the way.

Sea Levels of the Past Returning…tomorrow…

From Peter Sinclair says “Please do watch this one. I do think it’s one of my better ones.”