Earth Life Is Dying In A 6th Mass Extinction As Great As Asteroid Hit
65 Million Years Ago - But This Time the Cause Is Humans.
© 2014 by Linda Moulton Howe
— “The worst case is the rapid loss of species. But what is really unusual
about this extinction event is that the climate is changing anywhere between
10 and a 100 times faster than even the previous extinction events.”
- Chris Langdon, Ph.D., Marine Biologist, Univ. of Miami
— “The science is sobering—the global temperature in 2012 was among
the hottest since records began in 1880. Make no mistake: without concerted
action, the very future of our planet is in peril.”
- Christine Lagarde, Managing Dir., International Monetary Fund
— “There's good reason to believe southern Florida will eventually have to be evacuated.”
- Ben Strauss, COO of Climate Central, Florida
August 28, 2014 Miami, Florida - On August 19, 2014, five climate scientists warned Florida Governor Rick Scott that a major threat to Florida's future is the steadily rising ocean as carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases build up in the Earth's atmosphere like a warming blanket. Florida State University Prof. Jeff Chanton told Governor Scott that as the ocean expands with warmer water and polar caps keep melting, southern Florida's barrier islands to Lake Okeechobee are going to go under water. “That's a seriously different world,” Prof. Chanton said. “It's going to be a different planet for our children.”
The next day on August 20, 2014, the Institute for Biological Diversity reported, “Our planet is now in the midst of its 6th mass extinction of plants and animals in the past half billion years. Scientists estimate we're now losing dozens of species to extinction every day. It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30% to 50% of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century.” One estimate of the present rate of extinction could be up to 140,000 species gone each year.
The cause - human expansion around the planet into lands once abundant with diverse Earth life and using cars and other machines that emit lots of greenhouse gases. According to air bubbles trapped in Antarctic and Greenland ice, for nearly a million years (650,000) Earth's carbon dioxide levels only varied between 180 and 300 parts per million right up to the beginning of the human Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Only 200 years later by July 2014, CO2 has now risen to 399 parts per million (ppm), and is expected to be over 600 ppm by 2050.
July 1958-July 2014 Atmospheric CO2, year over year, Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii,
based on NOAA-ESRL data of August 6, 2014. See Websites below.
Humans are now responsible for adding about 35 billion tons of CO2 per year to the Earth environment. 30% to 40% of that CO2 is absorbed by the surface waters of the world's oceans and seas. All that CO2 keeps lowering the water pH to increasing acidity.
Ocean Acidification Threatens
Dozens of Marine Creatures
The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii managed by NOAA and the Earth System Research Lab (ESRL) have produced a graph that shows the upward rise of CO2 levels from 1989 to current day, which parallels the downward pH numbers to increasing acidity.
Here are the data trends in pH observed at the longest continuous pH monitoring site
in the ocean, Mauna Loa, Hawaii. In the upper red line, it shows the steadily increasing
CO2 concentration of the atmosphere that is the root of the warming problem. The second blue
line shows how the ocean CO2 concentration responds to the increase in the atmosphere.
It is always less than the atmosphere indicating that the atmosphere is driving the change in the ocean
and not vice versa. The lower blue dot panel shows how the increasing concentration of CO2 in the
ocean is driving down the pH. The annual swings in ocean CO2 and pH are the result of
natural processes but superimposed over that natural variability is a downward trend in pH.
This figure shows how ocean pH is thought to have varied over the past 25 million years.
You can see that the historic range is small, but that the current decline is unprecedented both in
magnitude and rapid rate. It is hard to find records that go back further than this because the evidence
of the CO2 concentration in the ocean preserved in rocks and sediment is not as reliable or detailed.
Ocean acidity has already had serious consequences on vulnerable shellfish on the U. S. West Coast that produce calcium carbonate shells to survive. But in the past decade, billions of baby oysters along Washington's coast — both in the wild and in hatcheries — have been killed as CO2-acidified waters have destroyed their shells.
Other creatures damaged by increasingly acidic ocean waters include clams, scallops, lobsters, crabs, and shrimp that humans like to eat, but in the future shell fish populations are expected to keep dropping as acidity goes up. Beautiful corals also need calcium carbonate to build their skeletons, but increasing acidity and warming sea temperatures are killing off corals, too. Most troubling, scientists project that by 2050 at least 70% of “sea butterflies,” or pteropods, close to shore up and down the West Coast will have severe shell damage. If they die out, how will salmon, herring and other fish survive that depend upon pteropods for their food?
Healthy pteropod: Tiny, translucent snails, also known as sea butterflies,
provide food for salmon, herring and other fish. Seen under a microscope,
this one’s shell is healthy and smooth. Images by Richard Feely, Ph.D.,
NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Lab.
Extremely damaged pteropod: This shell’s holes and pits produced with acidic
water in laboratory-controlled conditions, shows some of the most extreme
damage scientists expect to see with elevated CO2 in the oceans and seas.
21st Century Increasing Ocean Acidity
The three maps show model data of how the availability of calcium carbonate for ocean creatures
is predicted to decrease over the next century at a depth of 10 meters in the ocean — where
most corals occur. Blue indicates surface waters are sufficiently saturated with calcium carbonate for organisms to have enough material to build their protective shells. Areas that are deep red
are expected to be sufficiently acidic to dissolve shell-building organisms. Graph based
on models by James Orr of the Laboratory for the Sciences of Climate and Environment in Paris.
I called Marine Biologist Chris Langdon, Ph.D., at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology at the University of Miami. His main research is the decline and diseases of corals in the face of warming waters and other assaults of climate change. He is worried about the persistent die-offs now of not only corals but so many other Earth creatures each year. I asked Prof. Langdon what the worse case for the future might be and if the current 6th mass extinction is directly caused by a rapidly warming Earth?
Prof. Chris Langdon studying corals in a tank of water on the back
of a research ship at Davies Reef on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Chris Langdon, Ph.D., Marine Biologist, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology, University of Miami, Miami, Florida: “The worst case is the rapid loss of species. But what is really unusual about this extinction event is that the climate is changing anywhere between 10 and a 100 times faster than even the previous extinction events.
JUST TO MAKE SURE THAT I UNDERSTAND — YOU ARE SAYING THAT RIGHT NOW THE CHANGES DUE TO CLIMATE ON PLANET EARTH ARE NOW 10 TO 100 TIMES FASTER THAN THEY OCCURRED 65 MILLION YEARS AGO WHEN AN ASTEROID CRASHED AND MADE THE CHICXULUB CRATER IN THE GULF OF MEXICO.
The Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico on the northern border of the Yucatan
peninsula is more than 180 kilometres (110 mi) in diameter and 20 km (12 mi) in depth,
making it one of the largest impact craters on Earth and is thought to have annihilated
the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The impacting bolide that formed
the crater was at least 10 km (6 mi) in diameter.
Ice Core Data for Past 400,000 Years: The graphic above shows a strong 120,000-year periodicity
cycle in ice ages for the past some 2 million years. It has been observed that ice ages deepen by progressive steps, but the recovery to interglacial (between ice age)
conditions occurs in one big step. Graphic by NOAA.
We have almost a million-year-record of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere locked up in these bubbles in the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica. It allows us to reconstruct almost on a yearly basis how the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has varied over time.
So, that’s how we can say that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere today is increasing anywhere between 10 and 100 times faster than when the climate went into and out of these inter-glacial periods. There have been 8 cycles over the last 800,000 years.
It has everything to do with the rates of change. If you add the CO2 to the Earth’s system slowly, then there are natural buffering mechanisms. So, if the CO2 in the atmosphere gets to 800, if you add it slowly, the PH of the oceans does not go anywhere near as low (acidic) as when you add it more quickly. The reason is that if you add it quickly as we are today, then it’s only had time to dissolve into the upper layer of the ocean. So, you are putting the same amount of CO2 into a thinner layer of the ocean. So, the same amount of CO2 into a smaller volume results in a bigger decrease in PH.
AND WHAT IS CONTRIBUTING THE MOST NOW TO THE 10 TO 100 TIMES FASTER IS HUMAN CIVILIZATION …
… AND CO2 RELEASES AND METHANE.
THAT RAISES THIS ISSUE: HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THAT OCEAN SPECIES ARE GOING TO CHANGE THE REST OF THIS CENTURY IF WARMING WATER IS GOING TO HAPPEN AND THAT WE ARE ALREADY SEEING THERE ARE FISH THAT USED TO BE FURTHER SOUTH ARE GOING NORTH; THAT NOW WE HAVE THIS HUGE PROBLEM WITH SEA STARS; THAT WE ARE IN THE PROCESS OF NOT ONLY THE 6TH MASS EXTINCTION, BUT A HUGE CHANGE AND MIGRATION OF ANIMALS OUT OF WARMER WATERS TO COOL — WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE WAY THE PLANET LOOKS?
Right, so we have climate-driven migrations of species, but for some species, that’s not an option. Corals are an example of that. As the waters warm, they will try to move northward, but there are other hard limits and part of that has to do with light.
Underwater the sun shines on coral reef in Biscayne National Park south of Miami, Florida.
As you go to higher latitudes, there’s a bigger seasonal difference in the amount of sunlight that you receive over the annual cycle. Corals in addition to requiring clear, warm water – have very high light requirements. So as soon as you go 5 degrees or more further north, during the winter the days will be too short and the skies during the winter are too overcast for the corals to have enough light to survive the winter months.
WHAT HAPPENS IF ALL OF THE CORALS IN THE OCEANS DIE?
It’s called “The Slippery Slope to Slime.” We start with beautiful, hard, rocky reefs and what we are concerned about is them being replaced by jelly fish and algae and other scum of bacteria and slimy, mucousy things. Just like cockroaches could survive a nuclear holocaust. These are the tough guys that can survive.
The Slippery Slope to Slime
Prof. Langdon says that his colleague, Prof. Katharina Fabricius, sees plenty of reason to worry.
“In six trips to Papua New Guinea, she found sea cucumbers and urchins living near CO2 vents, but the shrimp and crab she expected to see instead were almost nonexistent. She saw only 60 percent as many hard corals as she did on healthy reefs nearby. Only 8 percent as many soft corals survived, and one species dominated. The reefs that remained were less intricate, offering fewer places for animals to hide. Dull, rounded boulder corals, which seemed to thrive, still grew a third slower than normal. Sea grasses flourished but were less diverse. There was twice as much fleshy algae. Here are some photos she took at a coral reef growing on the fringe of a volcanic island in Papua, New Guinea. In certain areas, the heat deep under the seafloor causes CO2 gas to be released and forms curtains of bubbles that lower the pH of the water covering the reef. The result is a natural experiment that allows us to see how the corals and other organisms on the reef will respond to acidification of the water.
Healthy reef. Fish swim around branching corals amid a pristine reef
near Dobu Island, Papua New Guinea.
Unhealthy reef in acidic CO2-filled vent water below 7.7 pH. Prof. Fabricius records data
from instruments placed alongside corals where CO2 vents off Dobu Island.
“We see the local extinction of many of the coral species that are found just a few 100 yards away. A few tough coral species continue to hang in until the pH falls below 7.7. Below that pH the reef scape becomes a barren, flat sandy area that supports few forms of the life.
Also you will see in the two images below by Prof. Fabricius what we call ‘settlement tiles.’ These are ceramic tiles left out on the Dobu Island reef at various locations for 6 to 13 months in areas where the pH is low (7.8) or normal (8.0-8.1). You can see the very dramatic difference in the communities that develop on the tiles.
Normal pH 8.0 - 8.1
On normal pH you see a colorful community of baby corals and crustose coraline algae that the baby corals like to settle on.
Healthy reef in normal 8.0-8.1 pH water.
The colorful beginnings of a new reef sprout on a ceramic
tile that was placed near healthy coral in Papua, New Guinea.
The baby corals and coralline algae on the tile provide a
glimpse of the healthy next-generation reef.
Acidic pH 7.8
At pH 7.8, you can see the dark, slimy community of bacteria and algae that are the only organisms able to colonize the tiles under the low pH conditions.
Unhealthy reef conditions in pH 7.8. Algae and seaweed crowd
out reef growth on a tile placed near Papua New Guinea’s CO2 vents.
The more corrosive water mirrors what’s expected throughout
the world’s oceans near the end of this century.
Where there are not droughts, there could also be excessive rain in other places. The National Wildlife Federation and NOAA report that in the Midwest and Northeast of the United States, big storms that historically would only be seen once every quarter century are now projected to happen as frequently as every 4 to 6 years as the 21st Century moves forward in global warming. In addition to damaging houses and other structures, excessive runoff can lead to “dead zones” of depleted oxygen within lakes and waterways that can kill wildlife.
Prof. Langdon: “The climate is going to start changing so rapidly that it’s going to be very difficult for humans and other creatures to adjust. We’re already seeing these droughts on the West Coast and how that’s going to affect agriculture dramatically.”
THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH (NCAR) HAS REPORTED IT IS TRUE THAT DOWNPOURS AND FLOODS ARE INCREASING BECAUSE AS THE AIR WARMS, IT CAN ABSORB MORE WATER AND THAT WATER HAS TO COME OUT OF THE ATMOSPHERE — SO THERE IS AN INCREASING SYNDROME OF HEAVIER DOWNPOURS AND FLOODS.
Yes, in certain areas. The weather and the climate is just going to get weird. It’s going to get wetter in some areas and in some areas, things are going to get drier. And everything we know and think we know and everything we use to plant our crops could change because climate is going to get different. So, it’s going to be very much more difficult to do that in certain areas that are too wet to plant crops when we want to plant them. And then other areas are going through droughts that last ten or twenty years
So, it’s going to be come a real food security issue at some point. That’s why I’m saying we can’t afford NOT to solve this (CO2 and global warming) problem. The sooner we tackle it, the less expensive. It will be because you can do it over a longer time. You can do things more gradually. You would be smart to get on board and tackle these problems sooner rather than later. But eventually the water is going to get hot enough and just like the frog in the pot — you either die or get smart.
Cold Coming Instead of Heat?
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THE CRITICS WHO ARGUE THERE IS NO GLOBAL WARMING, THAT THERE IS NO GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE TOWARD WARMING, THAT IN FACT WE COULD BE MOVING INTO AN ICE AGE?
OK, that’s a great question. If you look back over the last 600,000 years, there’s been an interglacial cycle about every 100,000 years. Based on that, the current inter-glacial that we’re in should be coming to an end and we should, based on that history and the natural cycle of the Earth, be headed into another glacial period. So back in the 1960s, you can look at scientific papers and that’s exactly what they were predicting.
So, I would say that the fact that we’re not – that the climate is very obviously warming – is a demonstration that humans are having a bigger impact on climate than these natural cycles and we’re now the dominant forcing factor in climate. So, I think it’s undeniable that climate is warming and it’s due to humans. We’re acting against the normal climatic cycle that would be sending us into a cooler period.
NASA Global Climate Change: “This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric
samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that
atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. Further, the current
warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced
and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.”
So back in the 1960s, you can look at scientific papers and that’s exactly what they were predicting. So I would say that the fact that we’re not — that climate is very obviously warming — is a demonstration that humans are having a bigger impact on climate than these natural cycles. And that we’re now the dominant factor in climate.
So, I think it’s undeniable that climate is warming and it’s due to humans — that we’re acting against a normal climatic cycle that would be sending us into a cooler period.
6th Mass Extinctions Caused by Humans
IN THE MONTH OF AUGUST 2014, I HAVE FOUND SEVERAL ARTICLES RELATED TO THE 6TH MASS EXTINCTION ON THIS PLANET. AND I’M WONDERING WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MARINE BIOLOGY MIND AS YOU CONTINUE TO SEE THE MEDIA WITH HEADLINES THAT WE’RE ON A PLANET NOW WHERE HUMANS ARE CAUSING THE 6TH MASS EXTINCTION?
Yeah, it’s mixed feelings. In one sense, people are finally hearing what I’ve been seeing for awhile, so that gives me some hope. But what I find is that people go from denial that there is a problem – you know, that climate change isn’t real. And then instead of a middle ground of, ‘Hey, it’s real. Let’s do something about it.’ They immediately flip flop to defeatism. ‘Everything is going to die, why bother trying to do anything?’ And they never stop in between where we are problem solvers. And that’s where we need to be.
And thinking that everything is going to be too expensive. We should be thinking that we cannot afford NOT to be doing. Now if this were our health – you know, you don’t need perfect certainty that certain behavior is giving you a 50% greater chance of a heart attack, right? Most of us, that’s a great enough certainty right there to change our behavior. And yet, for climate change, people seem to want 99.99% certainty before they think it’s worth doing anything and that’s just stupid.
You know, we invested $800 billion in TARP to fix the problem with our economy.
[ Editor's Note: The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is a program of the United States government to purchase assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen its financial sector that was signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008. It was a component of the government's measures in 2008 to address the subprime mortgage crisis. The TARP program originally authorized expenditures of $700 billion, increased to about $800 billion.]
And we did that with hardly a ripple. And yet a fraction of that would be enough to substantially deal with climate warming. And yet we think we can’t afford to do it. But here is a crystal clear example where you could put almost a $1 trillion into a problem in just a couple of years and that didn’t ruin us.
THAT WAS FOR BANKS AND WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE ENTIRE WORLD AND EARTH LIFE BEING SAVED BY SOME SORT OF EFFORT TO CONTROL EMISSIONS.
By End of 21st Century —
250% Increase in Ocean Acidity?
IN TERMS OF ANALYZING THE ACIDITY IN OCEANS AND SEAWATERS ON THE EARTH NOW IN 2014, AND COMPARING IT TO THE PAST, WHAT HAS BEEN THE INCREASE IN ACIDITY STARTING FROM WHEN TO WHEN?
So one baseline is the start of the Industrial Revolution some time in the 1800s, the PH of the surface ocean would have been about 8.2., and today it’s 8.05. So it’s about .15 of a PH unit lower in the last 200 to 250 years.
That doesn’t sound like a big number, but PH is measured on a logarithmic scale, so just like the Richter Scale for earthquakes where each number is a factor of 10 increase, each unit of PH from PH 8 to PH 7, that’s a 10-fold increase in acidity.
So, .15 is a 30% increase in the acidity of the oceans. And by the end of this century, if the PH gets to 7.8, which is conservatively what we are predicting if the CO2 concentrations gets up to about 900, which it certainly looks like it will, that would be a 250% increase in acidity. So a 2.5-fold increase in acidity! And that’s plenty big enough to upset the biology of lots of organisms.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW IS WHAT WILL REPLACE ALL OF THESE SPECIES THAT ARE DYING OUT?
Right. Something will replace it, but it’s very unlikely it’s going be something desirable. Like krill are being replaced by jelly fish called Salps. Organisms such as of whales that like to feed on krill don’t do so well trying to feed on jelly fish.
CORALS BEING REPLACED BY SEA WEED AND ALGAE.
Right. That kind of ecosystem is not going to support the beautiful populations of colored fish. You know, it’s going to be slimy bacteria and who knows what else?
AND THAT IS THE SLIDE INTO SLIME.
The slippery slope to slime. And cockroaches!”
Krill are small crustaceans of the order Euphausiacea, and are found in all the world's oceans.
The name krill comes from the Norwegian word krill, meaning “young fry of fish,”
which is also often attributed to other species of fish. Images by NOAA.
Transparent jellyfish-like creatures known as salps, about the size
of an adult human thumb, have been a low member in the ocean food web,
but as oceans become more acidic and krill can't compete, gelatinous
salps in the billions could be an increasingly important food source.
Further, their fecal matter sinks so salps could end up transporting tons of
carbon each day from the ocean surface to the deep sea that would keep
that CO2 from the air, but add more to the oceans.