If you are sat in a cold bath and turn on the hot tap, what happens? The water close to your feet becomes unbearably hot and the water near the top half of your body doesn’t noticeably change temperature. Fundamentally, the same process happens in the oceans. The sea nearest to the equator heats up as it receives the highest amount of energy from the sun; the sea nearest to the poles generally loses heat. In the bath, you slosh the water about as it enters the tub to distribute the heat more evenly. In the oceans, currents perform the same job, helping to move heat from the equator to the poles and make higher latitudes more habitable. If, for some reason, the currents transporting heat to higher latitudes slowed, the effect would be similar to you not mixing your bath water. Your feet (the equator and tropics) would become hotter, and your body (the subtropics and poles) would become colder. This is exactly what scientists think they observed in 2009/2010 in the North Atlantic, and they think this may explain some of the freak weather that was observed during that period.
Some of the most progressive and interesting science happens when experts from different fields come together to tackle the same problem. Recently a group of plankton ecologists teamed up with some palaeontologists to assess how climate change impacts the growth of specific species of coccolithophores, both in modern times and during a period of warming 56 million years ago. They showed that two species of coccolithophore responded very differently to this event. Continue reading Using the past to predict the future of coccolithophores
Most of you reading this will be very familiar with the story of how ocean acidification is likely to impact marine calcifying organisms: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is decreasing the pH of the oceans and is proposed to eventually lead to the dissolution of the shells of organisms made from calcium carbonate. It is difficult to work out in the lab, however, exactly what the impact of ocean acidification will be on marine calcifiers, as time pressures favour experiments that only assess short-term acclimation responses of organisms to ocean acidification (rather than long-term potential adaptations). Even when long term experiments have been carried out, they have only looked at the impact of pH change alone (see here), ignoring other relevent variables such as temperature. Continue reading Calcifying plankton and climate change
Since the final climate change episode of ‘Frozen Planet’ aired this week I have encountered three attempts to discredit the science: one statement1 by Nigel Lawson and two articles2, 3 by Chrisopher Booker (the first of which accuses the BBC of presenting a one-sided argument, when if anything they made too much of an effort to be balanced – not once did they blame humans for the changes observed). In what I am sure is a pure coincidence, all of these retorts were commissioned by The Global Warming Policy Foundation. This registered ‘charity’ is a think tank, funded by secret donors, that claims to be: