Thanks to our Friends!


Sunday in Nyhavn

There are thousands of options for nightlife in Copenhagen, especially in the middle of a United Nations conference. Every square in town has some sort of entertainment related to the climate talks — and of course, there are plenty of protests to watch.

But the evenings have been time mostly for quiet dinners among members of the Scripps delegation. They’ve been important opportunities for students, staff and faculty at Scripps to visit with the friends of the institution who have made this entire trip possible.

The Scripps presence at COP-15 has been entirely funded by friends of Scripps. No state tax dollars at work here. From the plane tickets to accommodations to the USB drives eagerly snatched up and coming home with journalists and delegates all around the world, supporters who care about science have succeeded in giving it a showcase at the world’s most importance gathering on climate. They have also allowed our students a chance to see science and policy come together on one of the most important issues of this era.

Generous support came from the Oak Foundation, Jesse Fink, Jason Khoury, Ellen Lehman, Lee Stein. Steve Strachan, and Kathy Paulin. Thanks one and all!

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Dec. 10 Scripps press conference webcast available

Watch Tony Haymet and Ray Weiss of Scripps host “Trust but Verify: Why Climate Legislation and Carbon-equivalent Trading Need Atmospheric Emission Verification to Work.”

Click to view webcast of Scripps COP-15 Press Conference, “Trust but Verify: Why Climate Legislation and Carbon-equivalent Trading Need Atmospheric Emission Verification to Work.” (It may take a few minutes to load)

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Ocean Acidification

Ocean Acidification is one of the three things that our delegation wanted to spread the word about at this conference. It has turned out to be a major theme among the scientists at the conference since the handful of other ocean science groups also realized that there was a need for outreach on this topic.

Ocean Acidification is also known as the “other CO2 problem.” It refers to the chemical reaction between water and carbon dioxide to form a weak acid. This is not quite the same thing as “acid rain” since that term generally refers to the creation of much stronger acids being formed in un-buffered rain water interacting with sulfur and nitrogen based compounds. The ocean is reasonably well buffered against (resistant to) changes in its pH from the addition of acids, but it is not immune to the effects.

There are layers of complexity, but the simplest picture is still fundamentally correct: more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more carbon dioxide in the oceans, more carbon dioxide in the oceans means more acid formation in the ocean, more acid formation means a lower ocean pH a.k.a. a more acidic ocean.

The extra CO2 that we’ve added to the atmosphere has made its way into the oceans already, and the pH has dropped by about 0.1 units already in response to our emissions. The pH scale is a little strange, so a drop of 0.1 units means that the water is actually about 30% more acidic. The ocean is slightly on the basic end of the scale on average (a bit over 8 at the surface, a bit over 7.5 at the bottom), so becoming a little more acidic isn’t going to melt the casual swimmer’s eyes or anything bizarre like that. However, as you might expect, life in the ocean has evolved to thrive in these higher pH conditions.

The main cause for concern comes from the reaction of this water-and-carbon-dioxide acid with a molecule in seawater called “carbonate” to form another common molecule in seawater called “bicarbonate.” This decreases the concentration of carbonate floating around. This is the same carbonate that could otherwise be used to form calcium carbonate, or the stuff found in chalk. Chalk and limestone are actually the calcium carbonate shells of tremendous numbers of dead microscopic plankton. Several very common varieties of modern plankton also make their shells out of calcium carbonate. When you consider that some of these plankton types are key components of the base of the food web in the ocean, the potential problem becomes apparent. Experimentation suggests that these organisms are increasingly going to make shells at a slower rate and with greater difficulty as carbonate becomes more scarce. Experiments using the carbon dioxide concentrations expected by the end of the century suggest that these shells will eventually dissolve in some surface seawater. Any ocean life that relies on a shell is also likely to have similar problems, and I understand that some oysters and clams show greatly reduced shell thicknesses already in modern conditions. Coral polyps also make their homes in calcium carbonate structures (the coral), and the reduced calcification rates are a likely additional threat to these species (along with warming induced bleaching, nutrient runoff, turbidity, dynamite fishing, and over fishing higher up in the food chain leading to over-predation…corals have it rough these days). Collectively acidification has a very real potential to rearrange the base of most ocean ecosystems. Ecosystems are known to adapt when change comes gradually but, as with global warming, this pH change is happening faster than any dramatic past ocean pH change we have record of. Naturally, past more-gradual acidification events also marked widespread mass-extinctions. It’s not definite that this will be large problem for humanity, but it is clear that it could be an enormous problem for the oceans and the ~50% of humanity that relies on the sea for its primary source of protein. We really need to take a closer look at how ocean ecosystems respond to the plight of it’s shell-formers. In the mean time, it is one heck of another big reason to stop dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

As I alluded to in a past entry there was an interesting exchange regarding ocean acidification at an early meeting…sadly my notes are nigh-illegible so the italicized text from here on out is paraphrases of my tattered memories. First the IPCC scientists presented acidification in their briefing as something that is almost definitely going to be in the next IPCC report (AR5). Two scientists in the audience then asked whether any mention of ocean acidification has been made to the decision makers formally and, if not, why not. They responded that no, the mandate of the IPCC is to release the reports on a preset time table after the standard multi-year review process and that to go beyond that would be to overstep their bounds.

At the same Q and A the question was asked how can you claim to not be involved in advocacy and still say ‘urgent action is needed (with respect to climate change).’ Rajendra Pachauri (I think) then responded that the full sentence that the reporter was quoting was urgent action is needed if the temperature increase is to be limited to 2 degrees C and that that is one of several exact questions of science which the IPCC is charged with answering. I appreciate this guy for his ability to competently deal with attacks…this is the same guy that pointed out that the UAE scientist’s enemy’s work made it into the IPCC. My favorite bit from him came when asked if he is concerned that Saudi Arabia has been making such a big deal of the UAE leak…I would be concerned if they hadn’t! It is said that politics and oil mix well, but I’m not sure that oil and science mix so well. Yes, I’ll leave it at that.

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

Getting the Word Out

It’s said that delegates to COP meetings come with their minds already made up, so the best we can do is raise awareness of our research topics through the media and interactions with other NGOs. It’s a good day when we can persuade journalists covering the conference to take interest in our topics as thousands of voices vie for attention. Our researchers have given interviews to outlets ranging from USA Today to Capital FM Radio in Malawi.

A chance encounter at dinner near our hotel eventually led to geochemistry Professor Ray Weiss’ live BBC Radio appearance Thursday morning. We hustled down to the BBC studio set up at the Bella Center where Ray was interviewed during the prime morning breakfast hour. He was also interviewed for the BBC World Service website.

Ray Weiss in the temporary BBC Radio studio at Bella Center

Ray Weiss in the temporary BBC Radio studio at Bella Center

Fellow Scripps researcher Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences, is no stranger to interviews and gave “man on the street” comments to a team from DR1, a Danish television network, from the exhibit being shared by Scripps Oceanography, POGO (the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans), Oceana and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Those comments will find their way into a documentary to be broadcast early next year.

Danish television outlet DR1 interviews Scripps researcher. V Ramanathan

Danish television outlet DR1 interviews Scripps researcher. V Ramanathan

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Connie Hedegaard

She’s the Dane who is in charge of making something happen in Copenhagen. She’s the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, the President of COP15, and the host of this whole thing. The whole world is watching her. A quote: “If the whole world comes to Copenhagen and leaves without making the needed political agreement, then I think it’s a failure that is not just about climate. Then it’s the whole global democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.”

This morning, I met her. I saw her in the hall, walked up to her, introduced myself, and told her that she is doing a great job. As she headed off to chair yet another stressful morning with little progress, I said, “Good luck.”

Actually, that’s not true. I did see her in the hall. I did walk past her, nearly brushing arms. I did think all of those things. But, I decided to leave her to her thoughts. She has more to worry about than meeting a grad student from California…even one with some encouraging words. She has a huge task. And with all the competing interests here, I really do want to wish her luck. I guess I missed my chance. Maybe I shouldn’t have passed up that opportunity…

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

Opening Ceremonies

I missed the opening as that was my travel day, but I found an article about it with some links to a few videos. It looks like it was pretty awesome. A review of the comments on the opening movie is quite depressing and makes me wonder if we will ever get anything done. Man.

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

The World Comes to Copenhagen

Hope you enjoy this video montage of early footage from Scripps Oceanography at the COP-15 climate talks in Copenhagen…

Let the games begin!

This morning, I spent an hour watching the main negotiating body. It was fascinating. While it seemed to start out as mostly an informational session or a chance for the COP-15 President to make some announcements, it quickly turned into the start of the bricklaying that will lead to the major negotiations early next week. The announcement that several potential plans, frameworks, protocols have been submitted to the Secretariat triggered quite a response from several delegates. Tuvalu, a small island state that is one of those most threatened by climate change, spoke for five minutes in support of their submitted amendments to the Kyoto Protocol to strengthen it before its expiration in 2012 and proposed a new Copenhagen Protocol which would offer legally binding emission reductions; support of technology, science, and adaptation centers; and stable financing for developing states. Their speech was received with rousing applause and started a chain of events that was fun to watch and gave me an idea of just how difficult this is going to be. ALL of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) lined up to support Tuvalu’s speech, plan, and general idea. Coastal African states came up next. Cape Verde was not subtle in their claims that climate change is a human rights issue and that folks will die. They went so far as to say that coastal and island people will not be the only to die, just the first. Cue second round of loud applause. Then, the other side started to line up against this plan. China, India, Venezuela, and the Middle East began giving statements to the contrary:

You are wasting our time…this is not the appropriate time to discuss this…we have a strong, existing protocol that should be implemented more fully.

No, the political will will never be higher than it is now…we must act…the time to act is now

We have a strong protocol in place now…this is not the time to try to start a new discussion…it’s the time to finish the ongoing one.

After rounds and rounds of objections, it seemed like the President almost did not know what to do. She suggested the body move on; continue giving announcements.

Tuvalu: We object.  These negotiations must be done with transparency. If all the negotiations will be behind closed doors between developed states, then we move to suspend COP-15.

A long pause…

President:  “We are moving on.”

110 heads of state will arrive next week.

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

University of East Anglia

Since this is a highly politicized topic, it’s important to note that any opinions you can pick out from my diction in this entry are my own and do not reflect an official stance by my apolitical scientific graduate institution.

I’ve always wanted to start something with a disclaimer!

Yesterday several of the heads of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had a cross between a press briefing and a scientific lecture. It began with a public response to the topic of the day among science skeptics…the stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia. These are a number of personal e-mails stolen from the computers of climate researchers at this British University that were selectively published out of context in the recent weeks. These e-mails painted a picture of an author locked in a bitter battle with another scientist. At one point the author stated to the recipient that he was going to prevent his rival’s work from getting into the IPCC reports. He also called the rival hurtful names. Naturally, pundits have used this to attempt to call all of climate change research and, indeed, all of peer reviewed science into question.

However, truly peer reviewed science is, by its very definition, resistant to being called into question. Were it not, it probably wouldn’t have survived the peer-review gauntlet. I think I can speak for Scripps on this account.

The IPCC response began by discussing the sheer numbers of people involved in any peer review process and the (much larger) numbers involved in peer review for the IPCC AR4 assessment. The numbers I jotted down were 400 lead authors, 800 contributing authors, and 2,500 review authors for the assessment report. The speaker talked about how no one author has the kind of power implied by the researcher in the e-mails, and called the review process “objective, robust, and open.” The most striking point that he made was that the rival’s research (that the e-mails’ author was so vehemently opposing) was, after the peer review process, actually included in the IPCC’s Fourth Assesment Report (Working Group 1, chapter 6, look for “divergence”). The speaker then paused for questions briefly before having the heads of each of the Working Groups (sections) of the IPCC report give an update on any findings that have emerged since AR4, but that have yet to be compiled to form AR5.  Sadly one of the research topics that Scripps is present at COP-15 to call attention to, ocean acidification, falls between these particular cracks. There was some discussion of ocean acidification during the second part’s Q&A, but I’ll save that for the blog entry on that topic.

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

Some things that I've learned so far…

I can actually walk right into the main negotiations and watch.  UN interpreters know LOTS of languages.  I did not need to bring my sunglasses to Copenhagen.  I did need to bring a power converter to plug in my computer.  Watching a booth is a great way to meet a lot of like-minded people.  Copenhagen is a very expensive city.  I am not very good at operating in a country that speaks another language, even when everyone in that country also speaks English.  I just find myself acting very shy (and therefore eating a candy bar for dinner…).  I must know more Spanish than I thought because I don’t have these same problems in Mexico.  It is totally dark here at both 8 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.  Despite my insistence that I have defeated jet lag, I have been up since 4 this morning.  It’s now 7.  Time to get ready for a new round of getting the word out.  Don’t forget the ocean!!

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

scripps oceanography uc san diego