According to the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii (via the climate.nasa.gov website), for the first time over the course of history as we know it, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have surpassed 400ppm.
Yeah, what does this even mean?
The news prompted me to revisit some writing from a few years back. In retrospect, it is timely once again.
The final night of our stay on Lee Stocking Island located in The Bahamas we were sitting outside enjoying the company of scientists and employees at the Perry Institute for Marine Science. It was a successful three days. We learned a lot and the University of Wyoming’s Environment and Natural Resources International Capstone class would be returning to Wyoming with invaluable information.
Yet for some reason I could not help but feel a little ill-at-ease. I contemplated the possibility of future generations not being able to enjoy the coral reefs. With climate change, rising sea surface temperatures, and the threat of ocean acidification raising the challenges for reefs in years to come, the disappearance of corals is definitely a possibility.
“What were the coral reefs like?”
“Did you ever see the coral reefs before they were gone?”
These are the hypothetical questions young girls and boys may ask me when I am well into adulthood. And after experiencing the reefs for myself, I do not look forward to giving an answer. Fifty years from now, how will I explain the amazement of the reefs and the biodiversity that existed under the water’s surface? How will I explain the corals lived in a beautiful symbiosis – plant and animal as one? How will I explain why the reefs are gone? Did I do all I could? And if not, how will I explain we heard the warnings and knew it was happening yet did not do enough to stop it from becoming a reality?
Exam week at the University of Wyoming is finally over and the endeavor our International Capstone class toiled on the entire school year is complete. For two semesters, we contemplated the consequences climate change and ocean acidification may have in store for the coral reefs. The connection between the arid climate of Wyoming and the sun, sand, and sea of The Bahamas might be slightly difficult to see at first. What could the two possibly have in common?
But the connection becomes clear when carbon dioxide gets thrown into the mix. Wyoming is an energy state. We burn a lot of coal here and make a lot of electricity. Therefore we emit a lot of carbon dioxide just to export all this energy to other states. In fact, Wyoming has one of the largest carbon footprints per capita* in the country. *site reference here.
So as the classed wrapped up, a few of the participants talked to one of the local Laramie elementary schools. We displayed maps of our travels and explained we visited The Bahamas to learn about the coral reefs. We talked about the different kinds of animals we saw. We also explained that carbon dioxide produced in Wyoming impacts the reefs through a process called ocean acidification.
The ocean absorbs the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere like a sponge, thus lowering the pH level of the water. This changes the delicate balance between the water, reefs, and animals living there. The lower pH level also makes it more difficult for the reefs to grow. And maybe this is tricky concept for elementary kids to grasp at first... in fact, it is a tricky concept for pretty much anyone to wrap their head around.... But they got it.
And when we talked about the environment and brainstormed ideas we can do to help, one girl – about nine years old – nailed it right on the head when she said, “If we all do just a little bit, it adds up to something really big.”
Going back to that night in The Bahamas when we talked about the fate of the coral reefs and what is in store for future generations, a friend of mine asked me if I could think of anything gone from the days before my time that I would have liked to have seen. Was there anything out there I never got a chance to experience?
At first nothing came to mind. But then it hit me.
“The buffalo,” I replied.
“Yes, the buffalo. They used to move across the prairies as an ocean of one.” [....]
PICTURED: NYASA LOVEBIRD