‘The Other CO2 Problem’

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

UC Irvine hosts a multi-disciplinary symposium that brought attention to the acidification of the world’s oceans.

Informing scientists and citizens alike, scientists and professors from disciplines across all of science spoke at an ocean acidification symposium entitled “Toward a Sustainable 21st Century,” last Friday, May 3, on the impending impact that carbon dioxide is having on oceans around the world — acidifying the waters by lowering their collective pH.

The 13th conference in the series was held in the Newkirk Center for Science and Society at UC Irvine in a day-long event that brought together multi-disciplinary experts in an attempt to better understand the current climate of the oceans and how humans’ impact since the industrial age may have irreversible effects on species diversity and the health of the oceans.

Host and moderator Steven Davis from the Department of Earth System Sciences at UCI began the symposium by outlining the goals for the day.

“Today, of course, we’re talking about what has sometimes been referred to as ‘the other CO2 problem’ — which is acidification,” Davis said.

Davis introduced a panel of speakers from a plethora of fields, professionals in the growing field of “Ocean Acidification.”

Dr. Richard A. Feely, a senior scientist at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, began the speeches by giving a brief overview of ocean acidification and helped give the audience a succinct definition of the term — a relatively new field of discussion since its inception in 2008.

“We thought that the uptake of carbon dioxide was a good thing, that the oceans were doing a service to mankind, but we now understand that carbon dioxide is an acid gas and reacts with water to form carbonic acid which lowers the pH [of the ocean],” Feely said. “One of the [arguments] deniers will say [is] that oceans will never become acidic, so calling it ‘Ocean Acidification’ is alarmist. We as scientists call ocean acidification the process of lowering the pH, not the end-state — so it’s the direction that we’re headed that’s critical.”

Closing his speech with a slide reading “Humankind’s footprint in the oceans is now clearly detectable,” Feely gave way to a group of presenters speaking on behalf of the economic impacts and the impact on species diversity that ocean acidification may result in if no action is taken.

“We have a lack of tools and strategies in our toolbox to deal with this threat,” Dr. Elizabeth McLeod, a climate adaptation scientist from The Nature Conservancy, said. “It’s hard to garnish support and secure funding for a threat you can’t see.”

Through monetizing the issue, framing it into medical equivalence and introducing how ocean acidification will affect communities in a global context, speakers were able to personalize the issue — extending the issue beyond what UC Santa Barbara professor Dr. Gretchen Hofmann jokingly described as a problem of “Will there be sushi?”

In showing how the changing climate of the oceans is being negatively impacted by the ever-increasing CO2 concentrations since the turn of the 20th century, the speakers brought forth ideas from audience members on mitigation and potential ideas for conservancy.

The symposium brought forth an emerging issue that humanity will have to deal with as a consequence of industrialization, and ended with optimism of change, however, with a chilling message from Bill Dewey, production manager for Taylor Shellfish, a shellfish grower along the northwestern coast of the United States.

“The more we know, the more we don’t,” Dewey said.