Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Jim Barry, Ph.D

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Changing the World one Breath at a Time: Humans, Climate, and Ocean Ecosystems

Wednesday- July 9, 2008

Pacific Forum – 3:00 p.m.

Science and technology have improved human health and promoted the rapid growth of world population, while simultaneously accelerating our exploitation of fossil fuels to provide energy for modern life. This has led to a massive increase in emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and serious concern for our role in ongoing climate change. Rare 20 years ago, links between global warming and changes in terrestrial and marine ecosystems are now commonplace. Less widely known is the role played by the oceans in the climate system, the effects of CO2 emissions on ocean chemistry, and their potential consequences for ocean ecosystems. In only the past few years a new term, “ocean acidification” has been coined to describe the rapid increase in ocean acidity caused by the influx of waste CO2 from the atmosphere. Projections of future ocean chemistry driven by our rapidly rising CO2 emissions are startling, with increases in ocean acidity unseen for many millions of years. How will this event affect the health of ocean ecosystems? Oceanographers are now attempting to identify the possible consequences of changing ocean conditions on phytoplankton productivity, coral reef health, deep-sea animals, and marine food chains. The fossil record of analogous events in Earth’s geologic history suggests that the future ocean ecosystems could be quite different. Should we care?


Next: July 16 - Nancy Knowlton, Ph.D.