The sailboat Ocean Watch left Juneau after a whirlwind five-day visit. They are sailing around both North and South America, presently in the Bering Sea headed for Barrow and will attempt to transit the Northwest Passage in August. The captain and crew have asked me to convey a heartfelt thanks to the people of Juneau for the warm reception they received. They would also like to thank NOAA, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Juneau Empire, KTOO public radio, Southeast Alaska Sailors and all of the community members who helped make their visit a success.
One of the reasons for their voyage is to raise awareness of changing ocean conditions. Between the crew's presentation (describing the project and the science experiments they plan to conduct along the voyage); the open house to visit Ocean Watch (and view the equipment that records weather data; ocean water temperature, salinity, and acidity); and the opportunity to view the documentary, "A Sea Change," on ocean acidification, I think they met their goal.
It is perhaps the changing ocean chemistry that should be of most concern to us. The ocean is absorbing huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - levels of which have increased dramatically from burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Carbon dioxide in the ocean turns into carbonic acid, changing the ocean chemistry and affecting the availability of calcium carbonate, a critical component in marine organism's shells and bones. The bottom line is, as the ocean becomes more acidic 1,000,000 marine species will be at risk.
The day after Ocean Watch departed Juneau, the editor of the Juneau Empire chose to print an article headlined, "Oysters in deep trouble" on the front page. The article described the collapse of the oyster industry in Willapa Bay, Wash., a region that provides one-sixth of the nations oysters. Scientists suspect that water from the Pacific Ocean that is pumped into seaside hatcheries may be corrosive enough to kill baby oysters. The article reported that this could mean shifts in ocean chemistry associated with carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels may be impairing sea life faster and more dramatically than previously expected.
As we learn more about these issues the question arises: "What can we do?"
Michael Reynolds, the scientist on Ocean Watch, writes in his online crew log on June 13, "Ocean acidification is irreversible on a timescale of thousands of years. The only way to mitigate ocean acidification is to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We must reduce the production of carbon dioxide."
How do we do that? Individually we can make choices in how we heat our homes, what kind of vehicles we drive, and who we support in the political arena. One thing I plan to do is to learn more about ground source heat recovery, a method of concentrating heat from below ground to heat buildings. This method does not burn fossil fuels and is being used successfully in Juneau in homes and businesses. The Federal government currently offers a tax credit to assist us in replacing our oil burning home heating systems with alternative energy sources such as ground source heat recovery. I also plan to keep learning about ocean acidification and talking to others about it. An excellent resource is www.aseachange.net.
Port call organizer, Ocean Watch