Whales Store Some Carbon, Oceans Store Loads of It

The is quite a bit of buzz today about recent research that quantifies how much whaling has – and is – contributing to atmospheric carbon. It appears that whales store significant amounts of carbon. I doubt, however, we will ever have a global breeding program to increase our whale populations, thereby offsetting our own carbon emissions. It’s just not feasible. (Besides, encouraging more people-whale interactions isn’t a popular idea at the moment.)

The focus needs to be broadened beyond whales. Ocean habitats are continually overlooked by the global community as viable sites of carbon sequestration. Blue carbon – as some call it – is a new concept being researched by the NGO community and receiving blog hits. The New York Times has even taken notice. Three months ago, Dan Laffoley of IUCN wrote a wonderful NYT op-ed entitled, To Save the Planet, Save the Seas. Read it.

In short, blue carbon emphasizes the key role of marine and coastal ecosystems. It places value on carbon-rich marine vegetation such as mangrove forests, seagrass, brackish marshes and salt marshes. Coastal and marine ecosystems are believed to be able to complement the role of forests  in taking up carbon emissions through sequestration.

See our related posts on this here, here and here.

This is a management area that was greatly overlooked in Copenhagen. It’s a concept to which the UN and coastal nations ought to give more attention. Island nations rich in blue carbon, like Indonesia, could benefit similarly to the way Brazil is predicted to benefit from “green carbon” sequestration programs, like REDD.

In my opinion, blue carbon sequestration programs will need new research, the right political advocates, and better governance. The question I pose to you marine scientists/environmental managers/policy makers: Where to start?

World sets ocean temperature record


The news is in – according the the National Climatic Data Center, this July has been the hottest in the last 130 years of record keeping:

The heat is most noticeable near the Arctic, where water temperatures are as much as 10 degrees above average. The tongues of warm water could help melt sea ice from below and even cause thawing of ice sheets on Greenland, said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado.

Breaking heat records in water is more ominous as a sign of global warming than breaking temperature marks on land, because water takes longer to heat up and does not cool off as easily as land.

“This warm water we’re seeing doesn’t just disappear next year; it’ll be around for a long time,” said climate scientist Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. It takes five times more energy to warm water than land.

The warmer water “affects weather on the land,” Weaver said. “This is another yet really important indicator of the change that’s occurring.” (Read More at AP)

Lightbulbs made from Salmon DNA, sea lion dies of heart failure following a marathon mating session (and other odd news stories from this week)

This week has been a great week for odd, random news stories – see below for a roundup of the best (including why the “killer squid” might not be so killer after all)

1. Fish shrinking due to global warming

1fishEarlier research has already established that fish have shifted their geographic ranges and their migratory and breeding patters in response to rising water temperatures. It has also been established that warmer regions tend to be inhabited by smaller fish. Mr Daufresne and his colleagues examined long-term surveys of fish populations in rivers, streams and the Baltic and North Seas and also performed experiments on bacteria and plankton. They found the individual species lost an average of 50 per cent of their body mass over the past 20 to 30 years while the average size of the overall fishing stock had shrunk by 60 per cent. This was a result of a decrease in the average size-at-age and an increase in the proportion of juveniles and small-sized species, Daufresne said. (Read More)

2. Researchers Use Salmon DNA To Make LED Lightbulbs

1ledResearchers from the University of Connecticut have created a new light-emitting material by doping spun strands of salmon DNA with fluorescent dyes. The material, which is robust because DNA is such a strong polymer, absorbs energy from ultraviolet light and gives off different colors depending on the amounts of dye it contains. A team led by chemistry professor Gregory Sotzing created the new material by mixing salmon DNA with two types of dye, then pumping the solution from a fine needle while a voltage is applied between the needle tip and a grounded copper plate covered with a glass slide. As the liquid jet comes out, it dries and forms long nanofibers that are deposited on the glass slide as a mat. The researchers then spin this nanofiber mat directly on the surface of an ultraviolet LED to make a white-light emitter. The color-tunable DNA material relies on an energy-transfer mechanism between two different fluorescent dyes, and the DNA keeps the dye molecules separated at a distance of 2 to 10 nanometers from each other. (Read More, via /.)

3.Mike the sea lion dies of heart failure after marathon mating session at German zoo

AAEE1XA male sea lion on has died of exhaustion after a marathon mating session at an zoo in Germany. The mammal, named Mike who was originally from California, was already a father of 12. He passed away yesterday after an extended session with the females at the park in Nuremberg proved too much for his heart. Mike – described as ‘good-natured’ by the zoo – had mated repeatedly with females Farah, Tiffy and Soda. The park said in a statement that the 550lb mammal began showing tiredness around midday: ‘Mike could no longer get out of the pool and was brought ashore by staff. ‘The extremely weakened animal was treated by a vet but died from acute heart failure around 3:30 pm. ‘Mating season is a common time for fatalities when bulls often stop eating for days to devote themselves fully to mating. ‘For sea lion bulls with a harem this is the most exhausting time. ‘He will be remembered fondly by visitors of the animal park for his appearances during shows in the dolphinarium where he had close contact with the dolphins,’ added the statement. Mike’s 12 children can be found in zoos all over Europe, from Berlin to Spain to the Netherlands, the zoo said. (Read More)

4. Discarded chicken parts may provide an abundant source of biodiesel fuel, scientists say

1kfcScientists in Nevada are reporting development of a new and environmentally friendly process for producing biodiesel fuel from “chicken feather meal,” made from the 11 billion pounds of poultry industry waste that accumulate annually in the United States alone. The researchers describe a new process for extracting fat from chicken feather meal using boiling water and processing it into biodiesel. Given the amount of feather meal generated by the poultry industry each year, they estimate this process could create 153 million gallons of biodiesel annually in the U.S. and 593 million gallons worldwide. In addition, they note that removal of fat content from feather meal results in both a higher-grade animal feed and a better nitrogen source for fertilizer applications. (Read More)

5. “Huge blob of Arctic goo floats past Slope communities”

1gooSomething big and strange is floating through the Chukchi Sea between Wainwright and Barrow. Hunters from Wainwright first started noticing the stuff sometime probably early last week. It’s thick and dark and “gooey” and is drifting for miles in the cold Arctic waters, according to Gordon Brower with the North Slope Borough’s Planning and Community Services Department. Brower and other borough officials, joined by the U.S. Coast Guard, flew out to Wainwright to investigate. The agencies found “globs” of the stuff floating miles offshore Friday and collected samples for testing. Later, Brower said, the North Slope team in a borough helicopter spotted a long strand of the stuff and followed it for about 15 miles, shooting video from the air. The next day the floating substance arrived offshore from Barrow, about 90 miles east of Wainwright, and borough officials went out in boats, collected more samples and sent them off for testing too. Nobody knows for sure what the gunk is, but Petty Officer 1st Class Terry Hasenauer says the Coast Guard is sure what it is not. (Read More)

6. ” Researcher Sheds Light On ‘man-eating’ Squid; ‘I Was Surprised At How Timid They Were'”

humboldt-squid“Based on the stories I had heard, I was expecting them to be very aggressive, so I was surprised at how timid they were. As soon as we turned on the lights, they were gone,” he said. “I didn’t get the sense that they saw the entire diver as a food item, but they were definitely going after pieces of our equipment.”

Seibel was surprised by the large number of squid he encountered, which made it easy to imagine how they could be potentially dangerous to anything swimming with them. Their large numbers also made Seibel somewhat pleased that they appeared frightened of his dive light. Yet he said the animals were also curious about other lights, like reflections off his metal equipment or a glow-in-the-dark tool that one squid briefly attacked. (Read More)

Poseidon Controls the Iron Hypothesis

picture-389An article in press at Global Biogeochemical Cycles has shown that iron fertilisation can actually decrease the amount of carbon sinking to the ocean floor due to complex ecosystem processes.The iron fertilisation hypothesis was originally proposed as a rapid solution to climate change by increasing the photosynthetic uptake of CO2 by phytoplankton otherwise limited by their source of iron. Unfortunately, one of these climate change experiments was eaten by hungry crustaceans (see “Hungry Crustaceans Eat Climate Change Experiment”).

However, in another experiment, the scientists at the University of California at Berkeley continued to monitor the phytoplankton bloom and changes over an annual cycle with “Carbon Explorers”, floats that recorded data down to depths of 800 meters after the iron fertilisation experiment. These floats were placed both near and away from the iron induced phytoplankton blooms. Initially, these researchers discovered evidence in support of the Iron Hypothesis with a phytoplankton bloom leading to movement of carbon particles to at least 100m below the surface and this was reported in Science in April 2004.

Over the longer term the Carbon Explorers observed a different pattern which may be related to complex ecosystem processes that occurred during the following annual cycle. Despite the demise of the phytoplankton bloom the following winter, there was no carbon rain to match. In fact, there was greater particulate carbon falling at the site away from the original iron fertilisation. It turns out that the zooplankton survive the winter at depths below where the phytoplankton live due mixing of the oceans. Storms that cause this mixing create a conveyer belt of phytoplankton to the deeper dwelling zooplankton.

Larvae (zoea) of the spider crab (left) and the mitten crab (right) between 1 and 10 days old.

Larvae (zoea) of the spider crab (left) and the mitten crab (right) between 1 and 10 days old form part of the zooplankton ( 'hungry crustaceans').

If the water is continually mixed to depths with low light, then the phytoplankton do recuperate and the zooplankton eventually starve. At the site away from the iron fertilisation, the ocean mixing was intermittent and the phytoplankton were able to survive at the surface. The following spring, a bloom in phytoplankton fed the hungry zooplankton and led to increased carbon rain.

It seems that creating the right conditions for increasing oceanic carbon capture is in the hands of Poseidon and not something that can be easily predicted.

(Photograph courtesy of Flickr, zoea drawings from New Quay and UCSD)