Your Order of Fish & Chips is Going Extinct

Open nearly any diner or local restaurant menu in New England and you’ll see fish and chips as a popular option. The fish in fish and chips is North Atlantic cod. So many people in New England and around the country enjoy fish and chips, but few people know the impact global warming and overfishing are having on New England’s cod population.

Global warming, as we know, is caused by an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A “side effect” of global warming that’s often referenced is rising ocean levels; however, it might not be clear that the rising ocean levels stem from the ocean becoming warmer. The ocean is naturally resistant to temperature changes because the hydrogen bonds in water form very stable bonds, so a large amount of heat energy is required to break them apart. This means that water can absorb a large amount of heat energy before its temperature rises. The rising temperature of the ocean illustrates how drastic global warming has become.

codfish

Since the ocean’s temperature is normally very stable, aquatic species are largely accustomed to a specific temperature within their habitat and do not respond well to change. Specifically, the North Atlantic cod has been shown to have difficulty adapting to the warmer water. Cod generally migrate late in the spring and early in the fall; however, with warmer water, that migration pattern could shift to much earlier in the spring and much later in the fall to avoid the warm waters. Cod could also move permanently farther north, or even stop migrating if there is no sea ice left at all. Some populations, particularly those farther south such as in North Carolina and off the coast of southern New England, would become entirely extinct by 2100 if the ocean temperature projections for that time are true.

Not only do New Englanders love to eat cod, but cod fishing is also a massive industry across New England and the North Atlantic. In the mid-1990s, there was a massive drop off in cod population due to overfishing. Since the population was so endangered that the New England Fishery Management Council said they were headed “seemingly inexorably, to oblivion.” In January of 2013, Congress passed regulations on cod quotas in the Northeast: cuts as much as 80% for the next three years off the coast of Maine. While this will hopefully help to raise the population of cod in the North Atlantic, it hurts the local economy. Fishery is a massive industry in New England, and such a drastic cut to an already declining population and struggling industry means that life will become even more difficult to fishermen relying on the next catch. Also, the warming waters might mean that cod populations will not increase to their former abundance even with highly managed fishing quotas.

cod

Scientists know that the declining population of cod in the North Atlantic is due to both overfishing and climate change. However, they are not yet sure what the best course is to fix it. Although fishing quotas have been imposed, those also injure the local economy and make it difficult to justify continued cuts on quotas. Additionally, cod is only an indicator for other fisheries across the globe. If all species need to move farther north to avoid warmer waters, what will live in the southern waters? Northern waters do not provide the coral reefs that southern waters do, so a multitude of fish populations that rely on coral reefs could become extinct. All of these issues are just as important as the impacts of global warming on land. The ocean takes up so much of our Earth’s surface, and we depend so deeply on the ocean, from water supply, food, transportation, recreation, and industry. I think we need to pay a lot more attention to what’s happening everywhere in the ocean, from the sea caps to the coral reefs, and including the smaller indicators, like cod, that show us what’s happening in a wider scale.

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A Green Antarctica?

There’s a bit of a dilemma happening in the Antarctic. That is, besides the fact that the glaciers are melting at a rate of 49 billion tons of ice each year. 

The issue is more of a moral one. Scientists largely agree that global warming is real, and it is a problem that will have catastrophic impacts on our world if left unchecked. The glaciers in Antarctica are certainly melting: it is entirely possible that in the next 200 years, the sea levels could rise up to 10 feet. In the past 200 years, sea levels rose by only 7 inches, and that was considered drastic. Coastal cities such as Venice, Boston, Miami, New York, and Mumbai would incur significant economic and physical damage, mostly stemming from a chronic flooding issue that would be difficult to control. Global warming, and therefore the melting of the glaciers, is caused by the greenhouse effect. The two major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO₂) and methane, and they form a layer of our atmosphere. As the light from the sun hits Earth, it reflects as infrared Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.02.40 PMradiation. Most of this then exits the atmosphere, but some of the energy is contained by the greenhouse gases and continues to warm our atmosphere. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the more energy is contained and the warmer our atmosphere becomes. Obviously the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has become overwhelming, as the glaciers in Antarctica are melting at a pace over five times faster than was predicted by scientists, when they should not be melting at all. The glaciers melt from the bottom up: first the water beneath them warms from the general temperature increase in the atmosphere at large. This, in turn, warms the ice and causes portions to break off, which then continue to melt in the water. The newly exposed ice then makes contact with the warmer water, and the glacier continues to melt.

So what is the dilemma? Surely all scientists would prefer that the glaciers stopped melting, even refroze. However, for botanists and plant biologists, the melted glaciers and warmer climate have some other affects that might even make global warming a bit alluring: plants are growing more, and better. This provides an opportunity to study the plant life of Antarctica in a way that has been previously impossible. Therein lies the conundrum: melting glaciers would increase the plant and animal life in the Antarctic, an exciting prospect for scientists in that area. The repercussions, however, would devastate many heavily settled cities as well as the ecosystems of both the ocean and the coastal areas.

Antarctica Glacial MeltingI think that while the prospect of finding out more about the ecosystems that could arise in the melted absence of the Antarctic glaciers, the damages to our civilization and other ecosystems would be too great a blow to justify even hoping that the glaciers continue to melt. The fortuitous discovery of further information on the Antarctic plant life is possibly something to ease the pain of the devastation of global warming, but it certainly does not justify perpetuating our current cycle of CO₂ emissions and pollution. We must continue to work towards a greener, healthier, less melty world.

If We Could See Our Carbon Emissions, Would It Affect the Way We Spend Energy?

The debate over whether global warming is real continues to rage on between scientists, the media, and the masses of wildly under-informed citizens of the world. Whether the sides ever come to an agreement is irrelevant: carbon emissions, the culprit behind global warming, are a reality and they have very real effects. Many of the effects, however, are completely invisible: increased acidity of ocean water, a depleted ozone layer, climate change, air pollution, and a list of others.

Carbon emissions are produced by so many activities we have deemed necessary for our everyday lives, yet they are completely invisible. When you turn on the lights in your room or turn up the heat, you do not suddenly see a column of smoke reminiscent of some particularly grisly trucks on the highway.

carbon

Visible carbon emissions show the flow and concentration of carbon emissions.

The ocean absorbs a major part of the carbon in the environment, but the climbing CO2 emissions have caused the ocean to become more acidic. This damages coral reefs and food webs. Ozone depletion leads to more UVB rays leaking through to the Earth’s surface, instigating climate change and raising the risk of skin cancer. Air pollution can seriously affect health and agriculture. The impacts of climate change range from human health effects to an increase in pests as well as more frequent hurricanes in some places, yet decreased water availability in others. All of these are ramifications of carbon emissions. None of them are immediately visible to the human eye, yet over the span of a few decades, they will wreak major havoc on the environment.

This videosmokestack truck shows what Earth would look like from space if carbon emissions were visible to the human eye. If we could see carbon emissions in our daily lives, like the smokestack coming off a truck coming out of a wall socket when we leave our computer plugged in all night even after it is fully charged, would we use less energy and produce less carbon emissions? When the effects as well as the emissions themselves are invisible, it can be hard to save energy or even realize how much carbon you are emitting. Accurately calculating your carbon footprint can be a time consuming and confusing endeavor, especially because many of the activities that relate to your carbon footprint, such as how local the food you eat is and whether you eat a meat- or plant-based diet, do not seem to have obvious carbon ramifications. So if our carbon emissions were as obvious as the smoke coming off a truck, would there be such a struggle to move towards lowering carbon emissions? Whether such a change would make us realize the benefits to lowering our emissions ourselves or if a sense of public embarrassment– the idea that others can see just how much you are damaging the environment– would catalyze a change, there would likely be a great deal more accountability for our actions.

Long Island’s Nitrogen Downfall

The earth carries out it’s cycles day by day without us even realizing. It revolves around it’s axis each day, concurrently revolving around the sun each year. It rains, the sky clears, it rains again. The earth seems to do what it pleases, without any respect to the measly human being. But we as a race have more power than we realize. Our actions change this earth, not always for the better.


fig. 1 Montaulk is an example of a beautiful beach in Long Island

Long Island is a beautiful region of the United States, popular for it’s breath taking beaches and serene oceanside environment. For years, tourists have flocked the sandy seashore, and fishermen have angled the plentiful amounts of crustaceans and aquatic creatures living underneath the surf for profit. But the seeming perfection of this environment has been shattered. New data and observations have shown that the Nitrogen levels of well known areas such as Westhampton Beach, Huntington Bay, Shinnecock and Flanders Bay have skyrocketed, forcing the oxygen levels toxically low. This increase in nitrogen has caused many sea creatures to either leave or die off. These aquatic animals need oxygen to survive. As the number of creatures in the area lowers, unrestrained algae takes over, turning oceans and bays an unsightly and unhealthy green.


fig. 2 In areas of countries like China, this algae increase has become extreme.

But why does this occur? The answer can be found in a lesser known, yet integral cycle of the earth: the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen is required for life of all plants and animals. Without it, we could not survive. Seventy-eight percent of the atmosphere is made of nitrogen, as well as three percent of our own human body. Nitrogen can be found in proteins and nucleic acids, in other words, in foods, and in DNA. As you can now see, nitrogen, though invisible, is essential. But nitrogen in large amounts can be detrimental to our environment. Large amounts of nitrogen, in the form of pollution, have entered the Long Island waters by way of soil leaching and runoff. Leaching occurs when fertilizer added to the ground does not bind with the soil, due to the nitrate in the substance being negatively charged. Runoff includes that from the sewer and septic pipes.


fig. 3 The nitrogen cycle is a complex process, but is necessary to sustain life on earth.

Other polluting contributors include an outdated waste water system, the use of pesticides, and emissions from power plants and vehicles. As these factors add up over time, nitrogen levels heighten, oxygen levels decrease, and the sea creatures dissipate. But the fish and animals aren’t the only things to disappear. The increase in nitrogen affects more than just the wildlife. It can negatively affect the economy, as it is doing now in New York. Tourists are slowly disappearing, disliking the polluted water, that is steadily becoming greener with algae. The pristine, once picture-perfect beaches may soon be a thing of the past. The fishing industry suffers as well, as their copious supplies run low, and what animals that remain will be sickly and oxygen-deprived. The main economic frame of the area is bending and shifting, all due to too much nitrogen.


fig. 4 Seen in this image is an example of runoff. This runoff is coming directly from the sewers and has many negative affects on the environment.

It seems like there is not much that can be done. Big factories and corporations will not soon change their polluting ways, and nor will ordinary humans, most living their lives oblivious to the the existence of the nitrogen cycle and its importance. Though I usually try to see the bright side in situations, the future does not look promising for Long Island, and possibly other beaches around the country, and world. I believe that pollution, though promoted extensively in a negative light, will not decrease anytime soon. Fertilizers and pesticides are an everyday tools for farmers; they will not risk the health of their crops and cease to use these things. The world takes their white sand and blue rolling surf for granted, but if people do not soon learn of the nitrogen cycle, all will soon turn green… with algae.