Ozone, Climate Change: Harbingers and Victims

Posted on 09 August 2012 by Jerry

For many decades canaries in coal mines were used for early warning of carbon monoxide, methane or carbon dioxide which would kill the canary before affecting the miner. It appears that fish may have replaced the canary in providing warning of ozone depletion and effects of these same deadly gasses on climate change.  This is of course, in addition to prescient scientists and climate activists who have provided similar early warnings that have been largely ignored.

A study entitled “Evidence of Melanoma in Wild Marine Fish Populations” in the August 1, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE, describes the first known cases of melanoma skin cancer in wild fish populations, in this case coral trout which inhabit the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) off Australia.  One hundred and thirty six fish were sampled and photographed and twenty fish, or roughly 15%, showed evidence of skin cancer.  Numerous other affected fish were sighted by divers.  The study however was performed only on fish captured via fishing.

Elaborate tests were performed on the affected tissues attempting to identify likely causes including bacterial, fungal, and ciliates or protozoan agents.  The observed dark growth lesions on the fish were similar in appearance to those reported in laboratory induced melanomas (cancers) using ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  See the identified link below.  In the absence of other identified causes, knowledge that the area is subject to high UV radiation as a result of the Antarctic ozone hole, and that UV radiation penetrates the ocean to a depth of 60 meters (200 feet), the scientists concluded the likely cause of these cancers was environmental exposure to UV radiation as a result of ozone depletion.

Scientists are surprised at the waning interest in depletion of the ozone above the planet.  This is thought to be because the world believed it had dealt with the problem with the signing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol where developed countries agreed to phase out use of chemicals that are damaging to the ozone.  Scientists moved on to study climate change and left ozone depletion as yesterday’s news.  Recent studies of ocean algae, coral, crustaceans and fish larvae and eggs however are showing a steep increase in the marine death rates from UVB radiation.

Moving to the Northern Hemisphere, fish are paying the price extracted by climate change, which accentuates weather highs and lows.  In the midst of the warmest 12 month period on record (see blog April 5, 2012 article “Record Warmest Year in U.S.”) and a nationwide drought with over half of the counties in America declared disaster areas, fish are dying by the thousands as rivers and lakes dry up and there are fatal increases in water temperatures.

Many scientists, who have become intimidated by the climate change deniers of the legacy energy industry and the political right, are reluctant to label this record drought a result of global climate change.  Instead, because of fierce criticism and pressure, they use the politically correct response which is “It is impossible to determine if any single phenomenon is a result of climate change.”   Only a few stalwarts and truthsayers have the courage to stand up to the intimidation.  They are our human harbingers.

A notable example of these brave scientists is James Hansen who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  In a recent NY Times Op-ed he warned that the Obama administration should oppose any effort of Canada to exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves.  He stated we should not cooperate in building a cross country oil pipeline giving Canada access to our Gulf Coast Refining.  He suggested instead that the U.S. and other countries should create incentives that rewarded countries like Canada for leaving their resources in the ground and choosing renewable energy sources instead.

In a long term outlook he stated, “Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.  If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control.  Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities.  Global temperatures would become intolerable.   Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction.  Civilization would be at risk.”

In a subsequent paper presented to the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Perception of climate change” he focused on an element of basic statistics looking at recent higher temperature summer outliers of more than three standard deviations.  He stated “This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface during the base period, now typically covers about 10% of the land area.  It follows that we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small.”

We need but look around us and listen to our scientists to know that the negative developments we are seeing are real and do not bode well for our future.  We must react as human beings have always reacted by recognizing the trends and deciding to change our course and minimize future negative outcomes.

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