Bush Administration plan to reduce global warming could devastate sea life

KINGSTON, R.I. -- November 17, 2003 -- A Bush Administration proposal to mitigate the effects of global warming by capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and injecting it into the deep sea could have disastrous effects on sea life, according to a University of Rhode Island researcher.

Brad Seibel, assistant professor of marine biology at URI, said that while the Administration's plan is still in the experimental stage, enough is already known about the biology of marine organisms to say with certainty that the plan will harm the marine environment in significant ways.

Increased CO2 in the oceans would result in decreases in the pH levels (the measure of acidity) of seawater, resulting in dramatic physiological effects on many species, Seibel said. Shallow-living organisms like shelled mollusks and corals are already being affected by the growing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. As atmospheric CO2 diffuses into the upper layers of the water, it inhibits the ability of shellfish to form shells and causes coral reefs to dissolve.

Deep-sea creatures are even more sensitive to environmental changes, he said. In some species, their metabolism would become suppressed and lead to retarded growth and reproduction, while others would be unable to transport oxygen in their blood.

"CO2 injection would be detrimental to a great many organisms," said the URI biologist. "It would kill everything that can't swim fast enough to get out of the way, because in concentrated form it's highly toxic, even to humans. But the Department of Energy seems willing to sacrifice the animals of the deep sea if it will stop global warming. That's not entirely unreasonable considering that if we keep stalling on taking serious measures to reduce global warming, we won't be able to do anything about it. But I'd still like to see that we're doing everything else possible to reduce emissions before we begin polluting the deep-sea."

The government's "c

Contact: Todd McLeish
University of Rhode Island

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