Fossil Fuel Ocean Heat, Pacific Kelp Collapsed

*Accelerating fossil fuel combustion has caused atmospheric and oceanic oxygen levels to plummet. Why is Man knowingly asphyxiating Mankinds only home?

Many of the luxuriant kelp forests surrounding all continents have collapsed. It’s a catastrophe for kelp-dwelling marine life. No home. No animals.

fossil fuel combustion
A 2011 marine heatwave cooked a 600-mile stretch of Western Australia’s kelp forests. Image credit: Dr Hamish Malcolm

Welcome to the insane Man-driven Sixth Mass Extinction occurring as fast as 10,000 times the previous five others as it collides with the Man-made climate in crisis from burning subsidized fossil fuels. Hideous biological annihilation.

93 percent of all fossil fuel heat has been stored in the oceans. The oceans drive Earth’s climate. The oceans heat is in lockstep with accelerating fossil fuel emissions. Every year in the last decade was among the 10 warmest ever measured in the oceans. In fact, 2018 was the hottest global ocean temperature ever recorded.

Everything in Nature is interconnected and interdependent.

fossil fuel combustion
A harbor seal patrolling the kelp forests near San Diego, California. Image credit: Kyle McBurnie

The kelp forests along the west coast of North America are mysterious underwater cold jungles that protect shorelines from the damaging effects of waves.

From abalone and lobsters to gray whales and orcas, the kelp forests are vital habitat for many species of rockfish, sea otters, sea lions and a splendid array of seabirds. These verdant dense forests were once upon a time stocked with giant manhole-sized sunflower sea stars, or starfish, that consumed sea urchins.

Beginning in 2010 the oceans began to noticeably warm. By 2013, 20 species of sea stars began to disintegrate into puddles of goo along an astounding length of shoreline spanning from Alaska to Baja, California, Mexico, almost 2,000 miles.

Everything in Nature is interconnected and interdependent.

Already, coral reefs, kelp forests and ancient forests have collapsed from extreme heatwaves.

fossil fuel combustion
Millions of sea stars perished from an overheated sick Pacific Ocean Image credit: Karyn Traphagen

Sea stars are vital to the health and well being of the cold kelp forests. They keep populations of kelp-eating sea urchins in balance.

Initially, a densovirus was fingered as the culprit for the widespread death, or, mass mortality event, of the sea stars. Minus the sea stars and with few remaining endangered sea otters, hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, the sea urchin populations have skyrocketed.

Sea urchins are voracious bottom feeding kelp-devouring creatures. They have felled much of the west coast kelp forests. In Northern California they have decimated most of the bull kelp forests. My colleagues have only a rudimentary understanding of how these majestic aquatic forests regenerate, but little idea of how to reforest them over a widespread region.

At the same time that the sea star mass death was occurring the Pacific Ocean temperature increased by as much as 7 degrees (4C). It coincided with the beginning of a record three-year global marine heatwave. By the way, warmer water contains less oxygen.

The massive “blob” of Pacific heat prevented the cold currents from upwelling and thereby providing iron and nitrogen, both essential fertilizers for kelp forests and its natural regeneration. And it impinged upon a rich supply of oxygen. So began their demise.

 Without the sea star predators, the burgeoning populations of sea urchins munched through the kelp forests. Prior to this calamity, sea urchins were believed to be mostly vegetarians with a predilection for kelp. Once the kelp was felled, the urchins began gorging upon the barnacles. They became carnivorous overnight.

Fuel Ocean Heat
The bull kelp forests are gone and so, too, are all their inhabitants. Image credit: California Department of Fish & Wildlife/Nadja Popovich NYT

Recently, some west coast sea star species have shown signs of rebounding. However, the largest and arguably the most important of the west coast sea stars, the sunflowers, have collapsed. Researchers from Cornell University and the University of California at Davis concluded that ocean heat drove these colorful 3-foot diameter masterpieces off the cliff.

fossil fuel combustion
The Horrifying Sixth Mass Extinction. Image credit: Neil McDaniel

These beauties were once as “common as robins” along the entire Pacific North American coastline. Today, only a few locations in Alaska can boast of their occurrence.

In less than a decade, fossil fuel heat has changed the oceans irreversibly. There is no magic wand, ladies and gentlemen, that can remove the equivalent fossil fuel heat of detonating 5.4 Hiroshima-style bombs every second.

In order for the human race to survive beyond the third decade of the 21st century, fossil fuel emissions must be reduced now. End annual subsidies of $5.3 trillion for the fossil fuel companies immediately. Mobilize all industries within 197 countries, dovetailing them toward attaining a zero-combustion world economy by 2030.

We have the technologies. We have the global work force. We have the money. We only lack world leaders who are willing to break free from the corrupt fossil fuel oligarchs.

All life on Earth lives within a habitable temperature range. Already, coral reefskelp forests and ancient forests have collapsed from extreme heatwaves.

In 2016, heatwaves, drought and a vicious El Nino boiled 17,000 acres of mangroves along a 435-mile shoreline of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. Unprecedented. Image credit: Dr Norman Duke/James Cook University

Last week, Minneapolis experienced a 125-degree (69C) swing in temperatures. The Australian continent is sizzling,burning and flooding at an unparalleled rate. Millions of dead animals are strewn across that continent.

How the hell do the world leaders intend to feed 7.7 billion procreating humans in the midst of the accelerating climate crisis with its intensifying heatwaves, droughts and epic floods?

Northern California’s bull kelp forests are gone. Image credit: Joe & Cynthia Catton/California Department of Fish & Wildlife

The vanished sunflower sea stars are the latest blinking red emergency of this terrifying Man-driven Sixth Mass Extinction. We must not go quietly into this ghastly impoverished future!







Dr. Reese Halter

Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster, distinguished conservation biologist and author.

Dr Reese Halter’s latest book is
Love! Nature

Tweet @RelentlessReese


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