Posts Tagged 'climate change'

Thoughtful Thursday: Go Light’s Out for Earth Hour

national aquarium conservation expert update

2014 marks the eighth year of World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s Earth Hour, the world’s biggest and most engaging grassroots movement that brings together communities from across the world to demand action on climate change through a global “LIGHTS OUT” event.  People from around the world will celebrate Earth Hour this Saturday, March 29th beginning at 8:30 pm local time.

Major landmarks and entire cities will go dark during this symbolic action that showcases how we, as global citizens, must take personal accountability for our daily impact on the health of the planet. By turning off the lights, switching off our electronics and turning away from our screens, we are highlighting the individual and collective actions we can make to produce real change – a change that can make a difference if we continue to commit to its ideals.

What can you do at home or at work to participate in Earth Hour?

  • Join for Earth Hour! Pledge to switch off your lights at home and show your support by registering your commitment.  Share this time with family playing games by candlelight or discovering fun ways to reduce household energy on a regular basis.
  • Go beyond the hour by supporting crowd funding or crowdsourcing environmental and social projects through Earth Hour Blue.
  • Amplify the hour. Encourage friends and family to get involved by sharing the Earth Hour video so they get a better sense of the magnitude and inspiring nature of this event.
  • Plan an Earth Hour Party! Block parties, candlelight vigils and candlelight dinners are just a few things you can do to celebrate as a community. Share the moment and consider, together, how you can reduce your footprint beyond the hour.

How is the National Aquarium participating?
From 8:30 pm-9:30 pm on Saturday, March 29th, the National Aquarium will go dark alongside hundreds of iconic landmarks and natural wonders ranging from the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, Niagara and Victoria Falls, and China’s Forbidden City.  We join over 7,000 cities and towns in 154 countries and territories with hundreds of millions of participants across seven continents in using our power to make change a reality.

This one hour of darkness may result in a small reduction of energy consumption, but more importantly paints a powerful picture of behavioral change needed to combat climate change.

Join us as we stand among hundreds of millions of people to call for action on climate change!

Laura Bankey national aquarium conservation expert

 

It’s Sea Otter Awareness Week!

This week is the annual recognition of some of the oceans’ cutest residents, sea otters!

sea otters

Did you know? Sea otters hold hands when sleeping so as to not float apart!

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Sea Otter Awareness Week, here are ten fun facts about these incredible animals: 

  1. Sea otters sleep, eat, hunt, mate and give birth in the water! They’ll oftentimes use kelp or giant seaweed to anchor themselves nicely in groups.
  2. Their dense, water-repellent fur keep sea otters dry and warm!
  3. Sea otters hunt for their food on the seafloor, but always return to the surface when it’s time to eat.
  4. Floating on their backs, otters will oftentimes use their chests as tables. If the meal of the day is a mollusk or crab, the ever-resourceful otter will also use a rock to crack open its prey!
  5. Sea otter coats have “pockets!” They’ve been observed using the flaps of skin found under each front leg to stash prey during their dives.
  6. Sea otters can reach up to 4 feet in length!
  7. The average life span of a sea otter is 23 years.
  8. Sea otters are meticulously clean animals. They spend hours grooming their fur everyday!
  9. Considered a keystone species, sea otters are critically important to the health of coastline marine ecosystems! They prey upon sea urchins and other invertebrates that destructively graze on giant kelp. Kelp forests are home to a wide diversity of animals, help protect coastlines from storm surge and absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide!
  10. Because they were regularly hunted for their fur, sea otters were in serious danger of extinction in the early 20th century – only approximately 2,000 were left in the wild. Their numbers have jumped up since being granted protection as an endangered species.

Help us celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week by sharing your favorite otter fact in the comments section! 

A Blue View: Rising Seas

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 26, 2013: Rising Seas

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the impact
climate change is having on rising sea levels. 

On these hot summer days, our thoughts tend toward ice cream cones and tall glasses of ice water on a sweltering afternoon rather than the melting of ice sheets around the world. But just as the ice melting in your glass causes the water level to rise, so too does the melting of the world’s ice shelves.

Perhaps you’ve seen the incredible videos of massive chunks of ice breaking away from a glacier, causing crashing impressively into the sea. Until recently, it was thought that this was the primary cause of ice loss in Antarctica. But in fact, a study by NASA and university researchers indicates that warming oceans are also dissolving the ice from underneath the ice shelf at unprecedented rates, causing the greatest loss of Antarctic ice shelf mass. Scientists plan to use these data to help determine how ice shelves melt, improving projections of how the ice sheet might respond to a warming ocean and contribute to sea level rise.

Ice loss is not just occurring at the poles: NASA researchers have discovered that glaciers outside of the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica lost an average of 571 trillion pounds of mass each year during the six-year study period, causing sea levels to rise almost two-tenths of an inch during that time. This actually matches the sea level rise attributed to the combined ice loss of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets.

Ice melting isn’t the only contributor to sea level rise. Warming temperatures cause waters to warm and expand. In turn, warming waters take up more volume. This phenomenon is called thermal expansion. The combination of ice melting and thermal expansion means that sea level rise is not just a possibility…it is happening now, and the only question is how fast it’s going to rise.

Many scientists now believe that sea levels will rise by no less than one to two feet by 2100. And without dramatic reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, the threat could be much more substantial.

The East Coast in particular is at greater risk from sea level than other areas of the world, mainly due to ocean currents and differences in seawater temperature and ocean salinity, according to climate scientists. The U.S. Geological Survey found that sea levels from North Carolina to Boston climbed by about 2 to 4 millimeters a year between 1950 and 2009 as compared to a global average of one-half to 1 millimeter.

These amounts may seem small and unimportant, but the repercussions from these rising levels are anything but. Imagine increased coastal flooding, shoreline erosion, loss of wetlands, and destroyed homes and businesses on the order of superstorm Sandy. Sea level rise does affect us all.

We need to take steps to control warming, as sea surface temperature and sea level rise are inextricably linked. According to the EPA, sea surface temperatures have risen at an average rate of 13 one-hundredths of a degree per decade since 1901. As small as that may sound, over 112 years, that’s an increase of one and a half degrees, which is already impacting not only sea level, but also coral reefs and other essential ocean habitats, migration and breeding patterns, the intensity of storms, and the spread of invasive species and marine diseases.

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Diane Rehm’s Environmental Outlook: Jellyfish And The Health Of The Ocean

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Earlier today, I spoke to NPR’s Diane Rehm about jellies and the impact that jellyfish population increases and expansion of some species’ geographic ranges are having on the health of our oceans.

Jack Cover at Diane Rehm show

With Bill Dennison and Diane Rehm at NPR.

Jellyfish first appeared around 560 million years ago (long before the time of dinosaurs). They’re 95 percent water, have no brains and no bones and no heart or blood, yet these gelatinous animals are among the worlds’ most resilient organisms.

The jellies simple body plan has remained relatively unchanged. But lately some scientists are concerned the animals are thriving too well – overrunning marine ecosystems, forcing nuclear power plants to shut down and filling the nets of commercial fisherman and shutting down fisheries around the world.

Some of the jellyfish species on exhibit here at the Aquarium.

Jellyfish species from top left (clockwise): blue blubber jelly, upside down jelly, spotted lagoon jelly, Leidy’s comb jelly

There are both ecological human-related issues causing an “explosion” of jellyfish populations around the world.

  • Over the years, climate change has raised the average temperature of the ocean. While this rise has negatively impacted organisms like coral, warm season jellies start breeding earlier and have longer active seasons.
  • Human activities, such as the over-fertilization of our lawns and farms, results in a runoff of excesses of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay and ocean. This results in what’s known as an algal bloom. When the algae absorbs all of this nutrient run-off, it dies. Bacteria then feeds on the dead algae and removes all dissolved oxygen from the water – this process is called eutrophication and produces “dead zones.” Fish and crabs perish in these dead zones, but not the resilient jelly. Jellyfish can survive with low oxygen levels!
  • Jellyfish are opportunistic feeders. When food, like zooplankton, is abundant, they will grow rapidly and reproduce at a rapid rate. Excessively large jellyfish populations can out compete young fishes that also feed on zooplankton.
  • Some scientists speculate that the reproduction of jellyfish predators may also be giving jelly populations a boost. For example, all seven species of sea turtle will opportunistically feed on jellyfish when they are encountered. The largest species of sea turtle, the leatherback, feeds almost exclusively on jellies. Pacific populations of leatherbacks are currently at about 7 percent of their historic population levels. Human activities are the cause of sea turtle population declines. Overfishing has reduced fish populations that also feed on jellies.

To listen the full “Environmental Outlook” segment on Diane Rehm’s show, click here

Jack Cover

A Blue View: Understanding Ocean Acidification

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 29, 2013: Understanding Ocean Acidification

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss how the changing
global climate is impacting on our oceans.

Say you visit the same spot on the same ocean every year. You take a swim, and it feels pretty much like the last time. The temperature doesn’t seem all that different. You certainly can’t tell that the pH is changing.

Yet just as the global climate is changing, so too is the ocean’s chemistry. Alongside atmospheric climate change, ocean acidification is one of the most serious issues affecting the waters of our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Ocean acidification has only recently entered the public’s consciousness, though scientists have been studying and predicting the phenomenon for some time. Many estimate that the ocean absorbs approximately 30 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide, which reacts with sea water to form carbonic acid. The resultant decrease in pH means the water becomes more acidic, with disastrous effects on animals that depend on their shells and exoskeletons to survive.

Though the media has taken to calling ocean acidification our “new climate threat,” it is not a new problem. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide has been increasing in our atmosphere and therefore our seawater. Now, over 200 years later, we can no longer ignore the threat. Even conservative estimates suggest that by 2100, global ocean waters will warm nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit on average and acidity will increase by 150 percent.

So what does this mean for ocean wildlife? Clearly, the sea’s complex food web will be disrupted. Highly mobile animals will be forced to expand their home ranges as they search for more hospitable waters. Sadly, coral reefs as we know them will be forever altered and could even disappear. Animals will struggle to build skeletons and shells in waters that literally dissolve them. And growth and reproductive capabilities of numerous marine animals will be at risk.

Ocean acidification has caused coral bleaching on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via CS Monitor

Ocean acidification has caused coral bleaching on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via CS Monitor

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is not immune to these dramatic changes. In fact, according to NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, the Bay is being affected at a faster rate than the global average because land in this region is already subsiding naturally. Bay temperatures have already increased almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960 and are projected to increase by an additional 3 to 10 degrees by 2100—a tremendous change that will have a profound effect on the nation’s largest estuary. Increased acidification of the Bay will alter its delicate balance in other ways. For example, according to marine geologist Justin Ries of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, blue crabs could grow larger, while the creatures they eat, including oysters and clams, could suffer from weaker, slower-growing shells. These bivalves, in addition to being an integral part of the food chain, also contribute to healthier water quality by filtering huge quantities of Bay water. The moral: damage one small species and you affect the entire Chesapeake Bay.

We cannot simply undo the impacts of ocean acidification. The carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere today will continue to accumulate for decades. There is hope, however, and as always, it starts with each of us. Reducing our consumption of fossil fuels and minimizing our collective carbon footprint isn’t just the best way forward, it’s the only way. As Fyodor Dostoevsky said in The Brothers Karamazov, “For all is like an ocean. All flows and connects. Touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.”


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