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Bellwether island shows possible impacts of climate change -- scientists

Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tatoosh Island, Wash., was once a whaling base for the Makah people, who have long inhabited the northwest corner of the continental United States. The island is now the focus of intense scientific scrutiny because of the rapid biological changes under way that scientists say might be a bellwether for broader consequences brought about by man-made climate change.

Researchers are finding that gull and murre populations are half of what they were a decade ago, with only a few chicks hatching this year. Mussel shells are thinner and are detaching from rocks more frequently and with greater ease. The thinner shells also mean less protection from the crashing coastal waves.

Goose barnacles and coralline algae are also suffering.

Biologists believe that declining pH levels in the ocean have brought about the declining populations and physiological changes. As the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide increases because of human- generated greenhouse gas emissions, the oceans are absorbing much of that increasing atmospheric carbon, making the water more acidic.

The consequences are not just confined to gulls, mussels or algae but have a ripple effect, affecting other birds and potentially humans.

During a research trip in 2000, scientists from the University of Chicago found pH levels around Tatoosh Island were 10 times higher than climate models had predicted.

"We all agree, it just looks different," said Cathy Pfister, a biologist at the university. She added that more research is needed to definitively explain what is happening on Tatoosh Island (Stacey Solie,  New YorkTimes, Oct. 6). -- RE

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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