Seminar Abstract

Ed Miles

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Warming Neptune's Kingdom: The Impacts of Global Climate Change on Marine Ecosystems


I began with a concern for the consequences of a low pH ocean as revealed in the papers by Feely et al. (Science, July 2004) and Sabine et al. (ibid.), wondering how most effectively to frame the policy questions which arise out of these stunning findings. After some thought I concluded that a sole focus on ocean acidification would not be the most fruitful way to go about my quest. I have therefore framed the issue as a problem of climate in a world of multiple stresses, all of which impinge on marine ecosystems to varying degrees. The total suite of stresses includes:

  1. the problem of increasing surface and sub-surface heat in the world ocean;
  2. large scale changes in ocean chemistry;
  3. global overfishing;
  4. land-based pollution of the coastal ocean; and
  5. proliferation of invasive species.

Phrased in such a fashion, the policy analytic job is massive, requiring community involvement and significant funding.

Since the current constraints on governmental science funding in the U.S. are heavy, I decided a different strategy was in order and teamed up with Dick Feely and Chris Langdon to use the mechanism of the Heinz Center in Washington, D.C. to lay out the problem in their “four sector” mode, involving Government, the private sector, environmentalist organizations, and academia to make a pitch for resources to do this work. I focused on two of the five stresses only -- increasing heat in the mixed layer and the “big picture” drawn from the last five years of research on climate impacts on marine ecosystems. My argument is that most of this work is the result of coupling the physics with the biology and ignoring the chemistry. Consequently, our ignorance is vast with respect to the ecosystem impacts of ocean acidification.

Feely followed with his summary of the work up to 2004 and Langdon closed with an outline and summary of results of his mesocosm experiments on corals. We delivered these presentations in mid-July to an audience of more than 50 representatives of the four sectors, including foundations and private industry, and followed it up the next day with a condensed version to the Board of the Heinz Center. The Board has accepted the challenge and I shall conclude with outlining how we intend to proceed. The focus of such a program, if we get it started, will be global, but I am assuming that the North Pacific work would involve collaboration between CIG, PCC, and NOAA/PMEL.

Speaker bio:

Ed Miles is the Co-Director of the JISAO Center for Science in the Earth System, and the Director of the Climate Impacts Group.