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Ocean Changes: Subtle but Serious

Due to increased carbon dioxide emissions, the world's oceans are becoming more acidic, affecting marine life. And whaling is reducing the number of giant whales that were once eaten by killer whales, leading step by step to a huge increase in the number of sea urchins. These sea urchins are munching their way through the kelp forests of the ocean, destroying the food that supports the fish that provide one of the world's main food supplies.

Richard Black writes in BBC News Online that most of the CO2 that goes into the air is eventually absorbed by the oceans, where it forms carbonic acid. Researcher Ken Caldeira says, "This level of acidity will get much more extreme in the future if we continue releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. And we predicted amounts of future acidity that exceed anything we saw over the last several hundred million years, apart from perhaps after rare catastrophic events such as asteroid impacts.

"Previously, most experts had looked at ocean absorption of carbon dioxide as a good thing?because in releasing CO2 into the atmosphere we warm the planet; and when CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, it reduces the amount of greenhouse warming. Now, we're understanding that ocean uptake of CO2 may at best be a mixed blessing."

Ivan Noble writes in BBC News Online that hungry killer whales are being deprived of their traditional food by commercial whaling that kills the giant whales they usually eat, so they've been eating seals, sea lions and otters instead. The reduction in the numbers of sea otters, especially, has allowed the population of sea urchins to explode. The sea urchins eat kelp, which is one of the traditional foods of the fish we eat.

Researcher Alan Springer says, "The message is that overfishing?can lead to food web impacts that are unexpected and unintended."

Our world is changing rapidly?how can we plan for the future? Whitley and Art Bell have some practical suggestions that anyone can use. And next summer, their book will be a major motion picture!

To learn more, click here and here.

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