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Patterns of Climate Change

Acidification of the Oceans

Ocean acidification (video), dubbed the ‘evil twin’ of global warming, is a direct result of increased atmospheric CO2. Scientists estimate that the oceans have absorbed about a quarter of all the atmospheric CO2 generated by human activities since 1800. In water, CO2 becomes carbonic acid. Between 1751 and 2009, surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from about 8.2 to 8.1. As pH is a logarithmic scale, this shift is much larger than you might think. Specifically, on the logarithmic pH scale, the .11 decrease in pH (as of Dec, 2011) corresponds to an increase of 30% in H+ (acid) concentration. Scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have pointed out how problematic this absorbtion of atmospheric CO2 by the oceans has become:

While this absorption provides a great service to humans by significantly reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and decreasing the effects of global warming, the change in the ocean chemistry affects marine life, particularly organisms with calcium carbonate shells, such as corals, mussels, mollusks, and small creatures in the early stages of the food chain.

The pH tolerance of many of these organisms is extremely narrow. The lowered pH is now damaging and placing in jeopardy these calcifying marine organisms, including corals and pteropods, which are approaching a point where they will no longer be able to form their bony outer shells. The loss of these organisms will impact the entire food chain of the world’s oceans. There is almost NO TIME LEFT to solve this problem. While our congressmen shamelessly allow lobbyists to write carbon emission standards out of the law, they are turning a deaf ear to the environmental calamity happening right now in the oceans.

We cannot call a discussion of the health of the world's oceans complete without mentioning The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (video). This "patch" is but one of a number of gigantic swirling gyre that are filled with plastic (petroleum based) debris. They encompass large swaths of the surfaces of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Within these gyre are the decomposing fragments of our petroleum based plastic society.

These “garbage patches” are not strictly garbage dumps. They cannot be seen from a satellite or Google Earth. However, just below the surface and extending to a depth of at least 90 feet, the water is littered with billions of small and microscopic bits of fractionating plastic debris. Observers describe it as looking like billions of pieces of confetti strung-out across thousands of miles of ocean. This ubiquitous plastic soup is punctuated with large pieces of floating garbage: indestructible plastic bags (video), bottle caps, Styrofoam cups, toothbrushes, tangled up snarls of fishing net conglomerates and intact plastic containers. But what is truly shocking is the pervasive plastic soup that is redefining the very composition of the ocean's surface.

Both sea birds and fish (video) are mistaking the floating plastic for food. The chemical toxins (including bisphenol-A, phthalates and other unregulated chemicals) within this plastic are inexorably entering the complex food chains of the oceans. Ultimately these toxins end up in the fish people consume. Our use and careless disposal of non-biodegradable plastic bags, plastic packaging, plastic bottles, Styrofoam and other plastic rubbish is overwhelming our planet's oceans.

Between the warming, the acidification and the plastic poison pellets,
the fossil fuel era is making a monstrous mess (video) of our beautiful oceans.

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Rising Average Temperatures

Average temperatures are rising. Rising levels of carbon dioxide correlate with rising temperatures. An average increase of .8 degrees C above pre-industrial levels is already having major effects (video) on the climate. Remember this is the average temperature for the entire planet. Temperatures are much higher on average over land than in over oceans and increases are most extreme at higher latitudes. Ground temperatures are increasing. Nights are getting warmer. Spring is arriving earlier. Winter is coming later. Ice on rivers and lakes is freezing later and thawing earlier in the season. Glaciers are melting around the world. Permafrost is thawing.

Shifting Climate Zones

Hardiness zones are shown on color coded maps on the backs of most seed packets advising gardeners which perennials will be hardiest in a given geographical region. With global warming, these zones are shifting northward (be sure to hit the play button on the lower right of the map to see the shift) at a rapid rate right now.

Rapidly shifting climate zones strongly impact which plants will grow where. As temperate zones are driven poleward to higher latitudes as well as to higher altitudes, agricultural regions and food crops will shift as well. Exactly how this will play out is complex. Certainly regions facing severe drought or water management difficulties from diminished snow pack and regions facing unstable and severe weather patterns will be challenged.

The U.S. wheat and corn belt will shift northward from the ice age enriched soils of the great plains to the glacially scoured and depleted soils of Canada. The near term and long lasting impact on the U.S. economy is not something to look forward to.

This puts a sobering perspective on the failure of the U.S. government* to revise and publish the severely shifting hardiness zones traditionally recalculated every decade. The radical jump northward in the hardiness zones over the last 16 years clearly documents the climate effects already realized in a very down to earth way that any farmer or home gardener who plants a packet of seeds can understand. Now imagine a four to eight fold additional shift northward in hardiness zones with the additional warming already in the pipeline. Knowing this, what farmer, rancher or gardener in any agricultural region around the globe would be sitting on the fence regarding the impact of climate change for them in the very near term?

* The scheduled 2005 update of the map was delayed, and the delay was rumored to be due to the USDA's unwillingness to show how much the US had warmed since the last map. The USDA now plans to release an updated map, but this time, using the last 30 years of data. As the map reflects temperature minimums, that use of 30 years rather than shorter period used for the past two versions will hide the warming.

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4 - The Solutions
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