Thursday, July 29, 2010

Plankton Decline Across Oceans - Not Good

Plankton, vital for life on earth, marine food webs and oceanic carbon function are reportedly in decline. This can't be good...
BBC - Plankton decline across oceans as waters warm

Phytoplankton in its myriad varieties is essential for life in the oceans

The amount of phytoplankton - tiny marine plants - in the top layers of the oceans has declined markedly over the last century, research suggests.

Writing in the journal Nature, scientists say the decline appears to be linked to rising water temperatures.

They made their finding by looking at records of the transparency of sea water, which is affected by the plants.

The decline - about 1% per year - could be ecologically significant as plankton sit at the base of marine food chains.

Algal blooms can be imaged from space

This is the first study to attempt a comprehensive global look at plankton changes over such a long time scale.

"What we think is happening is that the oceans are becoming more stratified as the water warms," said research leader Daniel Boyce from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

"The plants need sunlight from above and nutrients from below; and as it becomes more stratified, that limits the availability of nutrients," he told BBC News.

Phytoplankton are typically eaten by zooplankton - tiny marine animals - which themselves are prey for small fish and other animals.

Disk record

The first reliable system for measuring the transparency of sea water was developed by astronomer and Jesuit priest Pietro Angelo Secchi.

Asked by the Pope in 1865 to measure the clarity of water in the Mediterranean Sea for the Papal navy, he conceived and developed the "Secchi disk", which must be one of the simplest instruments ever deployed; it is simply lowered into the sea until its white colour disappears from view.

Phytoplankton... produce half of the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface CO2, and ultimately support all of our fisheries” Professor Boris Worm Dalhousie University

Various substances in the water can affect its transparency; but one of the main ones is the concentration of chlorophyll, the green pigment that is key to photosynthesis in plants at sea and on land.

The long-term but patchy record provided by Secchi disk measurements around the world has been augmented by shipboard analysis of water samples, and more recently by satellite measurements of ocean colour.

The final tally included 445,237 data points from Secchi disks spanning the period 1899-2008.

"This study took three years, and we spent lots of time going through the data checking that there wasn't any 'garbage' in there," said Mr Boyce.

"The data is good in the northern hemisphere and it gets better in recent times, but it's more patchy in the southern hemisphere - the Southern Ocean, the southern Indian Ocean, and so on."

The higher quality data available since 1950 has allowed the team to calculate that since that time, the world has seen a phytoplankton decline of about 40%.

Ocean cycling

The decline is seen in most parts of the world, one marked exception being the Indian Ocean. There are also phytoplankton increases in coastal zones where fertiliser run-off from agricultural land is increasing nutrient supplies.

However, the pattern is far from steady. As well as the long-term downward trend, there are strong variations spanning a few years or a few decades.
Old photo of mariners deploying Secchi disk Father Secchi's simple disk has been used for more than 100 years

Many of these variations are correlated with natural cycles of temperature seen in the oceans, including the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation.

The warmer ends of these cycles co-incide with a reduction in plankton growth, while abundance is higher in the colder phase.

Carl-Gustaf Lundin, head of the marine programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), suggested there could be other factors involved - notably the huge expansion in open-ocean fishing that has taken place over the century.

"Logically you would expect that as fishing has gone up, the amount of zooplankton would have risen - and that should have led to a decline in phytoplankton," he told BBC News.

"So there's something about fishing that hasn't been factored into this analysis."

The method of dividing oceans into grids that the Dalhousie researchers used, he said, did not permit scrutiny of areas where this might be particularly important, such as the upwelling in the Eastern Pacific that supports the Peruvian anchovy fishery - the biggest fishery on the planet.

Absorbing facts

If the trend is real, it could also act to accelerate warming, the team noted.

Photosynthesis by phytoplankton removes carbon dioxide from the air and produces oxygen.

In several parts of the world, notably the Southern Ocean, scientists have already noted that the waters appear to be absorbing less CO2 - although this is principally thought to be because of changes to wind patterns - and leaving more CO2 in the air should logically lead to greater warming.

"Phytoplankton... produce half of the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface CO2, and ultimately support all of our fisheries," said Boris Worm, another member of the Dalhousie team.

"An ocean with less phytoplankton will function differently."

The question is: how differently?

If the planet continues to warm in line with projections of computer models of climate, the overall decline in phytoplankton might be expected to continue.

But, said, Daniel Boyce, that was not certain.

"It's tempting to say there will be further declines, but on the other hand there could be other drivers of change, so I don't think that saying 'temperature rise brings a phytoplankton decline' is the end of the picture," he said.

The implications, noted Dr Lundin, could be significant.

"If in fact productivity is going down so much, the implication would be that less carbon capture and storage is happening in the open ocean," he said.

"So that's a service that humanity is getting for free that it will lose; and there would also be an impact on fish, with less fish in the oceans over time."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two steps forward, one step back? - US Climate Change Policy

Proponents of climate change legislation are undoubtedly worried with the Senate recently shelving major provisions of climate change legislation.

This move underscores the need for additional support for action on climate change.

Lack of votes for Senate Democrats' energy bill may mean the end (Wash. Post, July 23)

Senate Halts Effort to Cap CO2 Emissions (Wall St. Journal, July 23)
Democrats Forgo Centerpiece of President Obama's Energy Plan, as Cap-and-Trade Fails to Lure Broad Support in Congress

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wet Carbon - Call for Proposals

Danone would like to invest in projects which deliver certified carbon credits and local community benefits through restoring mangrove ecosystems. They are interested in large-scale projects which can be implemented quickly and efficiently.

Working in partnership with IUCN and Ramsar, Danone is seeking to invest in wet carbon projects that have the potential to deliver between 10,000 and 300,000 tons per annum of carbon offsets, certifiable by the Clean Development Mechanism or the Voluntary Carbon Standard.

For more information see:

Document available: Guidance for wet carbon project proposals

Friday, July 23, 2010

World Atlas of Mangroves Published

A significant step forward in the global assessment blue carbon ecosystems. Congrats to the authors. The following is reprinted from the Mangrove Discussion List:

Dear members of mangrove discussion list,

I am pleased to inform you that the World Atlas of Mangroves has just been published by Earthscan through a joint initiative of ITTO (funding agency), ISME (implementing agency), FAO, UNEP-WCMC, UNESCO-MAB, UNU-INWEH and TNC with kind contributions and inputs from more than 100 top mangrove researchers and organizations around the world. Authors are Mark Spalding (lead author), Mami Kainuma and Lorna Collins and map preparation was lead by FAO and UNEP-WCMC.

The book contains 129 maps (65-full maps) and country-by-country assessment of mangroves with over 200 photographs, 50 line drawings and numbers of tables including new mangrove area statistics. The initial 3 chapters provide a global view, with information on distribution, biogeography, productivities, wider ecology, as well as on human uses, economic values, threat and approaches for mangrove management, and mangrove mappings. These themes are revisited throughout the 10 regional chapters where maps provide a spatial context or starting point. Also, case studies written by regional experts provide insights into regional mangrove issues, usage, and sustainable management. Three Annexes provide species range maps with line drawings, national species lists and national statistics.

The book is targeted to a wide readership including mangrove researchers, students, conservation organizations, decision makers, policy makers and local communities, and can be used for the baseline of the further and future mangrove gain/loss assessment.

For more and detailed information, please visit ISME website at; or or visit Earthscan at

French and Spanish versions of the Atlas and a Policy Brief, a summary of the Atlas, are being prepared.

Thank you for your attention.

Best wishes,

Mami Kainuma, PhD, Project Coordinator, World Atlas of Mangroves

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blue Carbon Nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico

BP has finally capped the leak, so they say. Great. Rumors abound in South Florida that sub-surface oil is currently passing by Miami in the Gulf Stream and that NOAA officials are downplaying the extent of environmental impacts, as to not further exacerbate economic impacts of tourists just staying away.

What is definitely known, is that this tragedy is still a ongoing nightmare for blue carbon ecosystems and associated biota in the Gulf of Mexico. I will let the pictures speak for themselves:

Coastal marshes oiled. Northern Chandeleur barrier islands (AP Photo/David Quinn).

Louisiana Gulf Coast oiled (Michael Estigoy/SkyIMD & Greenpeace).

Coastal wetlands oiled (Matthew Preusch/Gulf Restoration Network).

Mangroves with oily boom. Cat Island, Barataria Bay, Louisiana (Kate Davison/Greenpeace).

Young heron and mangrove roots oiled. Barataria Bay, Louisiana (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert).

Endangered Olive Ridley Sea Turtle oiled (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries).

Bottle Nose dolphins swimming under oily water. Chandeleur Sound, La. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon).

Oiled sargassum in the Gulf of Mexico (Georgia Department of Natural Resources).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Coastal & Marine Markets Discussed at Katoomba

Coastal and marine markets, including carbon and climate change management, discussed at Katoomba Meeting, XVII (Hanoi, Vietnam, June 23-24, 2010). For videos from the meeting see: