The Environment

Some Topics


  • Ocean Warming

    Life began in oceans and all life continues to depend on a healthy ocean environment. Oceans are important players in the carbon cycle and are major determinants of climate and weather patterns. Climate change is raising ocean temperatures. Rising levels of carbon dioxide are acidifying the oceans with adverse changes in aquatic ecosystems, threatening, for example, fisheries an important source of human food. 230,000 known species live in oceans. Two million marine species are estimated to exist. Oceans contain 97% of Earth's water covering 71% of Earth's surface.

    The energy that is released by destructive hurricanes was stored in ocean water. This dramatic expression of weather occurs over the oceans. Cyclones are called hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Cyclones form over warm ocean water usually 80 degrees F. and greater than 200 meters deep. With increased global ocean temperature rise, the main feature of global warming, hurricanes are becoming more frequent, wider and more ferocious. Heat evaporates water which rises and cools to saturation, condensing into clouds and rain. A hurricane combines thunderstorms, strong winds, rain, high waves, storm surges and tornadoes.

    Warming of ocean water is having a worldwide negative impact on ocean life. The world’s largest coral reef which stretches for over 1,400 miles off the coast of Australia, has been severely affected by rising water temperatures. In May 2016, researchers found more than a third of corals in central and northern parts of the reef had been killed and 93 percent of individual reefs had been affected by coral bleaching, where too warm water causes corals to expel algae living in their tissue and turn completely white. Corals depend on a symbiotic relationship with algae-like single cell protozoa, so when these are expelled the corals stop growing and often die. [i] Coral reefs are an important habitat for many fish species who die when the coral dies.

    Nancy Knowlton wrote an article encouraging an optimistic mandate for ocean conservations efforts:” Once upon a time, a career as a marine biologist conjured images of days spent diving amid beautiful sea creatures. These days, it can often feel like being an undertaker for the oceans. Early in my career, I witnessed first-hand the depressing side of the job. The coral reefs off the north coast of Jamaica, where I had spent several magical years as a graduate student in the mid 1970s, were struck by a category-5 hurricane in 1980. Then came mysterious ailments that devastated two of the most important coral species, along with a species of sea urchin that, because of previous overfishing, had become the last defense against a tide of seaweed that was choking the struggling coral. Ten years after my first dive in Jamaica, the reefs I'd studied were all but gone. In 2001, my colleagues and I at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, founded the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. Core to our program was an interdisciplinary summer course, which brought together students ranging from marine biologists to physical oceanographers, economists and anthropologists. We thought of it as medical school for the ocean. in 2009, my husband Jeremy Jackson and I began running symposia at academic meetings called 'Beyond the Obituaries', which were about success stories in ocean conservation. A small workshop in 2014 led to a Twitter campaign, #Ocean Optimism, which has now reached more than 76 million Twitter accounts. On the weekend of Earth Day, the first ever Earth Optimism Summits will take place. In Washington DC, more than 235 scientists and civic leaders from 24 countries will share their success stories of conservation on land and water. Sister summits and activities are being held in nine countries around the globe. The goal is to learn from each other, and change the conservation conversation.” [ii]

    [i] Charlotte England . Great Barrier Reef is not repairing itself New research shows the damage has worsened rather than begun to repair. The Independent - October 14, 2016
    [ii] Nancy Knowlton . Doom and gloom won't save the world. The best way to encourage conservation is to share our success stories, not to write obituaries for the planet. Nature 544, 271 (20 April 2017)


    Plankton Impacts

    Among the numerous problems that arise with ocean warming, the increased in toxic phytoplankton threatens human and animal health. In the USA, NOAA has undertaken a study of algae blooms in the ocean. Linking warming to increasing phytoplankton toxicity. Domoic acid, produced by certain types of marine algae, can accumulate in shellfish, fish and other marine animals. Consuming enough of the toxin can be harmful or even fatal. Public health agencies and seafood managers monitor toxin levels and impose harvest closures where necessary to ensure that seafood remains safe to eat. NOAA is supporting research to help seafood industry managers stay ahead of harmful algae events that are increasing in frequency, intensity and scope.” Commercial and recreational shellfish fisheries along the US West Coast are a multi-million dollar industry," said NOAA harmful algal bloom program manager Marc Suddleson. "Improving our ability to accurately predict algal toxin levels in shellfish supports timely and targeted fishery closures or openings, essential to avoiding economic disruption and safeguarding public health." In 2015, domoic acid-related closures led to a decline in value of nearly $100 million for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery according to the Fisheries of the U.S. Report 2015.

    Another cause of phytoplankton blooms in increased nitrogen flowing into oceans from the land. Nitrogen in ocean waters fuels the growth of two toxic phytoplankton species, Pseudo-nitzschia pseudodelicatissima complex: P. cuspidata and P. fryxelliana that are harmful to marine life and human health. Auro and Cochland explained that nitrogen entering the ocean -- whether through natural processes or pollution -- boosts the growth and toxicity of a group of phytoplankton that can cause the human illness amnesic shellfish poisoning. Pseudo-nitzschia genus produce domoic acid. When these phytoplankton grow rapidly into massive blooms, high concentrations of domoic acid put human health at risk if it accumulates in shellfish. It can also cause death and illness among marine mammals and seabirds that eat small fish that feed on plankton.

  • Discussions of Environmental Science and Human Ecology were developed by Environmed Research Inc. Sechelt, B.C. Canada. Online Topics were developed from the book, The Environment. You will find detailed information about the sun, weather, soils, forests, oceans, atmosphere, air pollution, climate change, water resources, air quality, energy sources, and preserving habitats.

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    The Author, Stephen Gislason MD

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