Posts Tagged ‘ Scripps student

A Sea Change

This film is amazing. If every parent could see this film, they would be set on fire to do something to stop ocean acidification. It follows the journey of one man, the filmmaker, Sven Huseby, who, after reading an article in the New Yorker about ocean acidification, becomes determined to save the beautiful fragile pteropods who are in the most danger of losing their shells if we continue emitting carbon dioxide and acidifying the oceans, so his grandson will grow up in a world will an ocean teeming with life.

After a screening of the film on December 10, there was a Q&A with Vicki Fabry, Andrew Dickson, Tony Haymet, and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. The moderator, Brad Warren, kicked off this portion of the Q&A with an attempt to address two criticisms: Two kinds of hope being peddled at COP-15, both of which deserve to be thrown out of the window of a tall building. Geoengineering in the form of ocean fertilization. And the fact that adult lobsters grow thicker shells in a more acidic sea sometimes. You can click on the link to hear the panelists’ response: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp-A-qCMhgY

Tamara Beitzel, Scripps graduate student

Week 2: Tuesday and Wednesday

The blog is back up!  Now, what I’d been meaning to post since yesterday, plus some today updates, so apologies if this gets a little long.

I arrived in Copenhagen yesterday after a marathon of flights (Orange County to Minneapolis/St Paul, Minneapolis to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Copenhagen) and hit the ground running. I was informed by the nice COP15 representatives at the airport that in the near 24 hours since I boarded my first plane, the situation had gotten a little crazy, with NGO delegates waiting in line for up to seven hours trying to get their badges. As I’d arrived around 15:30 local time and was already sleep-deprived and disoriented, I figured I might as well try to get in that afternoon rather than ruin my Wednesday morning, which proved fortuitous; through sheer luck I managed to get my badge within about three hours, and to my understanding we were the last batch to get badges, period.

Besides the logistical nightmares (more on that later), the experience so far has been almost surreal, possibly because of jet lag. When I got in Tuesday evening I wandered around the Bella Center a bit as I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get in today at all. There are representatives of practically every group that has an interest in the climate change issue; before yesterday I hadn’t really given it much thought that there could be a “women for climate solutions” organization (actually there may have been two or three!), then of course there were youth groups (which was encouraging), developing countries, alternative fuel industries, and universities such as Scripps Institution of Oceanography, just to name a few. I was also interested to see the number of vegetarian/vegan advocacy groups there, mostly handing out paraphernalia outside the front gate. I went fully vegetarian about a year ago primarily for the environmental benefits, and I feel it’s one of those often-overlooked climate mitigation strategies. It would be interesting to see delegates at one of these meetings try to offset their travel emissions by eating lower on the food chain for the duration of the conference.

I have to say the thing I’m most disappointed about is, as others have mentioned, the organization of the event (or rather, the lack thereof). Those in charge could definitely have done a better job of setting up NGO access, as well as facilitating the dissemination of information. They say there are about 40,000 people here, but the capacity of the Bella Center is only 15,000.  The solution to this was to limit the number of people by giving each delegation a certain number of “secondary” passes, so in order to get in you need both your primary photo badge and then a secondary badge. However, as of Tuesday, if you didn’t have a secondary badge they wouldn’t let you in to pick up your primary badge (I saw several fellow line-standers get turned away after getting through security because they didn’t have the secondary badges.) What an awful experience to fly all the way from somewhere like Africa or Australia to attend these events, only to be turned away before even getting through the door, or missing your side events because of the registration logjam! Beyond that, even, they are limiting the number of us who can get into the BC to fewer and fewer each day, so the secondary badges don’t even guarantee anything: 7,000 today, 1,000 tomorrow, and only 90 on Friday. Ostensibly this is to keep the building under capacity while protecting the heads of state from the protesters seen on the news today, but it is quite disappointing as those of us left had hoped to see Obama speak on Friday.  The BBC is reporting that some protesters have tried and succeeded to spend the night inside the BC; good luck to them, but those of us who succumbed to the desire to sleep in a bed and have a shower will probably go around to some of the external side events of Thursday and Friday, and with any luck find a closed-circuit broadcast of the proceedings airing outside the BC.  Something like that could probably have gone a long way in placating the masses as well as reducing congestion at the BC, especially considering the powers that be knew the people there would amount to almost three times the capacity, but as far as I can tell there is nothing widely publicized of that nature going on. Most of the information desk people were as helpful as they possibly could be, but there was definitely a gap in communication somewhere along the line.

We did manage to get in this morning, though they had already blocked NGO access to the main plenary. We were able to go into the secondary plenary hall and for a brief period they were broadcasting the ongoing plenary proceedings there. Heads of state were supposed to speak in the afternoon, but as of when they turned off the broadcast there was still a back-and-forth going on between negotiators, which was a shame, as I was hoping to see what el presidente Hugo Chavez and the other scheduled heads of state had to say.

Other highlights:
–on our final descent into Amsterdam, seeing not one but two offshore wind farms.

Offshore wind farm off Amsterdam

–going out to dinner with the group only to have the governor of California and the LA mayor walk in and sit at the next table, with an entourage of about 15. Look out soon for the picture of Tamara, me, and Arnold Schwarzenegger that Rob scored with his excellent communication skills.

John Kerry speaking at COP-15

John Kerry speaking at COP-15

–getting in to see John Kerry speak today. He was very optimistic about the potential for a climate bill passing the Senate next year, but emphasized that an agreement here would facilitate that process. I’m not quite so optimistic, but it’s nice to see sitting politicians recognize the gravity of the situation, and I hope he proves me wrong.

–sitting in the plenary and using the translating headphones!

–and, completely unrelated to the conference: snow!

Snow in Copenhagen (the dark blurred figures are bicyclists)

–Kristina Pistone, Scripps graduate student

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

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

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

Copenhagen

This city has been transformed by NGOs and interest groups in preparation for COP-15. Public squares, billboards, subways, and even a local small college have been remade with artwork, exhibits, and forums. Many of these pieces are simple messages of hope or pleas to the people in power to “seal the deal.” Others are clearly part of a city/nation-wide PR campaign. Still others are heavy-handed symbolism: a polar bear ice sculpture left by the World Wildlife Foundation to slowly melt in a just-above freezing courtyard. One photographic exhibition with a clear message displayed in a plaza was entitled “Top 100 places to remember before they disappear.”

Naturally, interspersed with all of these are advertisements for the latest green industries. The city hall plaza hosts a giant ball about 3 stories tall made to look like the rotating Earth using projected light. The base of this globe was also the site of a Euro-rock show last night, though they skipped the cover band in lieu of speeches by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo De Boer and some local politicians.

Copenhagen is an interesting and, in some ways, ideal choice to host this 15th “Conference of Parties.” The city is several steps ahead of any other modern city I’ve been to with respect to green practices. I’m certain that some of this is a result of pre-COP-15 preparations (such as the corn-husk disposable plates), but most of the meaningful differences are reflected in the actions of the residents and the existing infrastructure. Windmills are everywhere… including a giant one that dwarfs the rather large conference center we’re in. I’ve also heard the statistic that 50% of the population here takes their bikes to work. I believe it too. They have much larger bike lanes on every downtown road complete with lights and curbs. Weirder still, they’re occupied! I mention this partially as a warning… as a San Diegan, I generally feel free to drift into the middle of bike lanes with semi-impunity secure that, if I get run over there, it’ll probably be by a car that drifted out of the road. Here though, pedestrian incursions are met with fiercely tingling bells and clumps of passing cyclists. It’s exciting how efficient the bikes are at getting around once they have a little infrastructure and room to move. Traffic is also essentially a non-issue… even with the extra 15,000-20,000 people in town for the meeting. It’s not just bikes though… the people of this town seem especially engaged in these issues. Our group had an offsite event yesterday evening, and a large number of the attendees were just people from town who were curious about ocean acidification.

Also curious about ocean acidification?  More entries to come! Unfortunately my ability to write about what’s going on is being outpaced by seeing neat things to ramble about…

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

Getting Ready…

The Scripps delegation is traveling over in waves.  My advisor and I leave tomorrow morning and we will arrive at almost the same hour (after some time zone hijinx) the next day. Right now we’re saying goodbyes and getting ready.  Of course, readying oneself suggests preparing to meet an expectation, and at the moment I’m entirely unsure of what to expect.

As a graduate student my role is simple: staff a booth, get out Scripps’ press materials, stay out from underfoot, and direct as many people as possible to speak with the senior scientists in our delegation. Thankfully, this meshes well with my duty as a concerned earthling.  I can imagine a number of ways we can respond as individuals/cities/states/nations/a species to the climate issue, but the only viable ways begin by focusing on the science.

So far getting ready has mostly just entailed reading and downloading recent climate research outside of my immediate discipline.  For anyone wanting a read-able summary of this body of research (as of 2007) I suggest the 4th IPCC report for policymakers or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, the report for scientists (available piecemeal here)

Perhaps the most daunting preparation for a graduate student raised on Scripps formality though…finding that pair of dress socks.

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

 
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