How whales help fight oceans acidification


The estimation of the ocean CO2 absorption from the atmosphere in 2017 is about 2.6 billion tonnes. That corresponds to about 25% of human CO2 emissions. The landmass binds another 25%, but the rest… 50% of the carbon pumped into the atmosphere is therefore unbound. These figures show a 36% increase in ocean absorption from the average of the years 2005-2017 ! When the ocean absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere it causes acidification (excess of H +) CO2 (aq) + H2O ↔ H2CO3 => H2CO3 ↔ HCO3- + H + => HCO3- ↔ CO32- + H +.

Acidification is increasingly measurable in the world's oceans, but especially in the sea around Iceland. Ocean acidification has been closely observed both in shallow waters since 1985 and deep seas since 1994 around Iceland, and measurements show that ocean acidification around the island is greater than the average acidification in other parts of the ocean. 

Ocean acidification can adversely affect marine life and may cause the shells and skeletons of marine organisms made from calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to dissolve. That's because CO3 tends to bind to H+ when there is an excess of it in the region. That means that animals with shells spend more energy repairing their shell rather than growing or reproducing. These animals, therefore, have become smaller to survive. Shellfish are the mainstay of many fish diets, such as mackerel and capelin, which are then mainstays of other fishes. If the ecosystem base is threatened, it could have catastrophic consequences up the chain. 

Oceans Acidification is a concern for the world and even more for Iceland. Capelin is considered a key species in the ecosystem, and the main food of many fish stocks around Iceland. Changing behavior of the capelin can have a major impact on other stocks. Studies have shown, that with rising sea temperatures, we are seeing changes in the migration route of the capelin. The sea around Iceland is nutritious and produces over a million tonnes of seafood annually. That counts for about 1.3% of the world's catch. Fisheries have been and are economically important for the Icelandic nation. The fisheries sector accounts for about 6% of GDP and accounts for about 40% of the value of exporting. Acidification of the sea should thus be a big concern for Iceland. How do we stop the sea from getting more acidic? 

A new study has suggested protecting whales in the ocean is the key to success. Not just for the intrusion of whaling vessels but all general sailing and fishing. But the fact is that far more whales are killed in collisions with ships or drowned in fishing nets than caught by whaling boats or 1,000 for every 300,000. So how can protecting whales help the environment? The fact is that whales are big animals. Even though CO2 is now man's no1 enemy at the moment, it contains the atom of life itself, carbon, the building block of life. 

Building the largest organisms on Earth considerable amount of carbon sequestration is required. In this light, it is important to point out that since whaling reached its peak in the middle of the 18th century, and to this day it is estimated that most whale stocks have decreased by 50% - 90%! Before the overfishing of whales was a fact, about 1.9 million tonnes of carbon was bound on the seabed each year in the form of dead whales that sank to the bottom. To put this figure in the context of the Icelandic reality, the annual CO2 emissions of the Icelandic car fleet are around 500 thousand tons (TT). Annual emissions from agriculture are 750 TT and annual emissions from the fishing industry are 420 TT. The total emissions from these three major CO2 emissions factors in Iceland are just under 1.7 million tonnes. That shows the importance of strong whale stocks. Another, possibly even more important binding method is induced by whale poop (whale pump). Baleen whales mainly eat krill that they find at great depths. That is how the whale becomes important in the nutrient cycle. 


The whale picks up nutrients from the deep. Then releases a huge amount of nutrients with fecal matter into the top layer of the sea. Photosynthetic plant microorganisms called Phytoplankton, which live on the ocean surface area, are responsible for about 40% of CO2 sequestration from the atmosphere. They photosynthesize by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen like photosynthetic plants we know on land. The difference lies in the root system and nutrient uptake of the plants. Phytoplankton does not absorb nutrients from the soil. Instead, they thrive on nutrients that they will find in the ocean. Phytoplankton function is often limited to iron uptake as iron is usually scarce. And here we see the importance of whales as whale droppings are very rich in iron. And there is more...

Phytoplankton

Whales are marine animals that swim across oceans. A good example is the Nort Atlantic Humpback. The Nort Atlantic Humpback is born off the coast of Mexico and swims from there to Iceland and even further in search of food. The humpbacks feeding grounds are in cold seas but then (most of them) return to Mexico during the winter months in Iceland. The sea around Mexico is limited in nutrition compared to the Icelandic waters. 

Transport of nutrients from Icelandic water, where the ocean is very rich in nutrients, to the Gulf of Mexico, where it is less nutritious, is a vital part of the ocean's nutritional cycle.

Whales are essential for the ocean's ecosystem, and the ocean is vital for the world's ecosystem if we want to keep the Earth "human friendly"...

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