Our View: New warming trends could spell disaster

December 13, 2006 12:00 am

New satellite data reinforces evidence that oceans' ecosystems are headed toward collapse — and that spells trouble for Crescent City and other Northcoast communities.

The oceans' food chains center upon the growth of microscopic plants known as phytoplankton. Many fish and organisms eat phytoplankton and depend upon the oxygen it provides. Now data collected during the past nine years from a NASA satellite shows that ocean warming is dramatically reducing the number of phytoplankton, according to a recent study in the scientific journal Nature.

This certainly has a significant effect on us locally. Pull out the bottom cards in the ocean's ecosystems, and all above will come tumbling down. The fish and crustaceans off our coast are among those top cards. Cause their populations to crash, and so will our harbor businesses, which bring tens of millions of dollars annually into Del Norte's economy and provide jobs for hundreds.

There is little doubt that ocean temperatures affect phytoplankton, notes study co-author David Siegel, a professor of marine science in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Phytoplankton grow faster in cool oceans but slower in a warm ones.

If the oceans continue warming, that means less food for fish and other animals, resulting in smaller populations to harvest. In addition, phytoplankton are responsible for about the same amount of photosynthesis each year as all the plants on land combined. Reduction of these oxygen-producing plants means more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, speeding up global warming.

Whether or not humanity is responsible for global warming is irrelevant. But we must be responsible for countering the warming, for its consequences certainly will matter to us.

While the solution to ocean warming must be international in scope, each of us locally can encourage our leaders in Washington to take the lead on this problem. In addition, each of us can play a role locally in helping to reduce global warming. Our individual contributions may be small, but no house gets built until someone picks up the first board.

COMING DEC. 14: What each of us can do individually to address global warming.

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