Comment on the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force: Missing Research on the Ocean Carbon Cycle

The Interim report from the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force has been released and is open to comments at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/oceans/interimreport/.  I submitted the following comment:

“Yes, and OCC!  Fully agree with the entire report — it’s a great  holistic and science-based approach to dealing with the ocean. Yet something important is missing: Bold, responsible action to attack the cause of climate change: Research on the Ocean Carbon Cycle.   The report ignores the fact that the oceans are integral with the atmosphere and its higher carbon.

These are not normal times, and while the report recognizes that carbon-induced climate change profoundly affects the oceans and all aspects of our environment, it does not address the role that oceans have in planetary carbon.   By analogy, if the ocean was a human body, and dehydration was the problem, then the report focuses on how to deal with the lack of water. It is not recognizing that drinking more water could solve the source of the problem.  If the oceans can safely consume more carbon, then, perhaps, the planet can heal the root of the problem: atmospheric carbon.  We need to find out soon and ever so comprehensively and carefully.

While the report recognizes the problems climate change induces, it takes a reactive, passive, and band-aid approach to higher atmospheric carbon and climate change, to alleviate symptoms, not address the root problem of higher CO2.   Rather than just strengthen the ability to adapt to acidification, we should also strongly prioritize and aggressively research (in a stepwise, precautionary manner) the Ocean Carbon Cycle needed to gain the knowledge needed to possibly counter or even reverse high atmospheric carbon, and the resulting acidification.  “Restoration” gets closer, but does not call for bold prudent action.

Carbon-induced climate change is a cascading train wreck in progress. It is not “Precautionary” to fail to do research  that provides knowledge useful to avoid a train wreck. We have become good gardeners of the earth and, in large part, understand how to avoid big problems (economic drivers of deforestation notwithstanding). We view reforestation as a good thing, but have not started the due diligence for a parallel in the seas. We need to be good stewards of the oceans, start the proactive and precautionary research to see if the oceans can drink in more carbon to avoid the train wreck in progress.

The last line of Area of Special Emphasis #1 (Climate Change) reads as follows:

We have an opportunity and a responsibility to develop strategies for reducing the vulnerability, increasing the resilience, and improving adaptation of human and natural systems to climate change impacts.”

 What’s missing is:

We also have an opportunity and a responsibility to research the oceans’ capabilities of and sensitivities to restoring and expanding its natural role in consuming atmospheric carbon, reducing the imbalance causing climate change.

Suggested addition to the Report:

 Areas of Special Emphasis

                        6. Immediate prioritization of Proactive and Precautionary Research  on  the Ocean Carbon Cycle.  Robust Understanding of Ocean ecological processes relevant to higher atmospheric Carbon, Climate Change and Ocean Acidification: To radically strengthen knowledge of marine environments carbon interactions, sensitivities and their abilities to safely counter high atmospheric carbon, climate change and ocean acidification.

Obstacles and Opportunities

Beyond Emphasis area #1, adapting to and being resilient to climate change and acidification, bold action is called for in the form of National and Global Call for Research on the Ocean Carbon Cycle. Oceans consume roughly half of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and with evidence of phytoplankton population decreases, this cascade effect calls for immediate research. A prudent, due diligence investigation is needed to guide restoration, and evaluate enhancement efforts. Establish a national and global priority, on par with carbon-free energy production, on par with President Kennedy’s moonshot program. 

Oceanic research has not ranked high in the fight against climate change, but is now recognized as key to understanding planetary carbon. Lack of knowledge should not prevent needed research, as long as the Precautionary Principle is held as a firm guide to ethical and responsible stepwise research. Neither should this call for research be met with complacency, as diligent conservation and carbon-free energy and economies are clearly necessary.

The Plan Should Address:

  • NOAA:  Coordinate Research, observations and modeling of carbon flows in marine environments with a 10 to 20 year horizon to achieve high confidence understanding of relevant ecological and planetary dynamics.  
  • Unprecedented high prioritization of stepwise, conservative micro-, longitudinal- and, if indicated, larger-scope studies of  full carbon cycle processes, including phytoplankton enhancement and longterm sequestration evaluation.  This amount to holistic marine ecology research.
  •  Leadership and coordination with all members of the global community regarding research in the Commons; Confirm research ethical guidelines consistent with the Precautionary Principle.
  • Prioritize earth and ocean observations for NASA;  Recommendation to redirect manned space exploration programs into preparatory modes for 10 to 20 years. Radically increase robotic oceanic monitoring. Use Navy surface and submarine fleet when consistent with military objectives.
  • Expansion of marine biology and ocean chemistry and dynamics education. Radical expansion of university marine research programs.  Include the oceans’ role in atmospheric carbon in public education efforts.
  •  Evaluation of the historic record of volcanic iron releases, CO2 levels and ocean ecologies”
  •  [Not included: Development of policy discussion for global consensus and treaties using a precautionary basis for ocean programs to counter atmospheric carbon.]
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One Response to “Comment on the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force: Missing Research on the Ocean Carbon Cycle”

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