Sunday, October 05, 2008

Louder Oceans (by Phila)

New research suggests that ocean acidification reduces sound absorption, which means that underwater noise will travel for longer distances:
Conservative projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that the chemistry of seawater could change by 0.3 pH units by 2050 (see below for background information on pH and ocean acidification). In the October 1, 2008 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, Keith Hester and his coauthors calculate that this change in ocean acidity would allow sounds to travel up to 70 percent farther underwater. This will increase the amount of background noise in the oceans and could affect the behavior of marine mammals....

Hester's research shows once again how human activities are affecting the Earth in far-reaching and unexpected ways. As the researchers put it in their paper, "The waters in the upper ocean are now undergoing an extraordinary transition in their fundamental chemical state at a rate not seen on Earth for millions of years, and the effects are being felt not only in biological impacts but also on basic geophysical properties, including ocean acoustics."
Things affect other things. Go figure.

Presumably, calculations of the allowable noise levels for wind-farm turbines, and undersea warfare training exercises, and acoustic deterrent devices will take ongoing acidification into account.

What depresses me about all this -- aside from the obvious -- is that the more effects climate change has, the less seriously it seems to be taken among skeptics. Just as consensus is seen as collusion, each new concern is met with greater disbelief: "Now they're saying global warming will make fish go deaf! Bwa ha ha!"

It's certainly not due to any lack of imagination. The same people usually have no problem teasing out the hidden connections between gays and subprime mortgages, or immigrants and Morgellons disease. And the analogical intricacies of liberal fascism are as child's play to them.

But even among people who accept that warming is real but natural, the idea that it could have serious, wide-ranging, unexpected effects remains downright alien: perhaps the world's getting a tiny bit warmer, the argument goes, but how could that possibly affect disease transmission, or the incidence of wildfires? If anything, the inactivists seem to be even more complacent than the denialists, which is no mean feat.

A recent article in Science discusses the tendency to find connections and patterns where they don't exist. I'm more impressed by the ability to ignore them where they do.