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Week of 7.3.09

Ocean Tipping Point?

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Global warming is front and center in Washington with the passage of the climate bill in the House. This week, we look below the surface at a growing body of evidence that suggests climate change is affecting the chemistry of the seas, which could have potentially catastrophic results on the way we live.

NOW travels deep into our oceans with a scientist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and help from other researchers for a first hand look at this stunning sea change, and what we can do about it.

This is an update to the NOW investigation Sea Change.

Related Links

Web Feature

Our Oceans: What Could Happen
An expert forecasts alarming lifestyle changes for America if we don't act soon on our oceans.
Conover Fish Ecology Lab: Conover Fish Ecology Lab

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: NOAA's National Ocean Service

The White House: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States

White House Press Release: National Policy for The Oceans, Our Coasts, and The Great Lakes

In the News

The Associated Press: Quotes on the climate bill

The Economist: Rich Countries and Climate Change

Foreign Policy Magazine: Did the White House just allow a massive climate change windfall?

The New York Times: Australian Emissions Trading Plan in Trouble

NPR: Paul Krugman Gives Take on Climate Legislation

The Wall Street Journal: A Look Into Future Oceans for Shellfish Reasons

Viewer Comments

Commenter: JoAnn Witt
Thank you, Now, for your good work.
Our foreign policy and domestic policy make me very angry, sick, and give me a feeling of hopelessness.
I'm emailing the Whitehouse regarding the issues. I hope people will do so, en masse, but vote for people like Ralph Nader the next time. That is our, only, hope. Even knowing that he, most likely, won't win, that is what we must do.
Conservatives are controlling both main parties.


Commenter: Frances Pierson
what we personally experienced in Southern Europe two years ago (in 2007) is HORRIFYING! The global warming has rapidly and tremendously changed (in just three years, from 2004) the lands of Southern Europe, in Greece, in Southern Italy and in Southern Spain, which are now on their way to becoming deserts from the green lands that they were before!!
HOW ABOUT THE 30 DEGREES (F.) INCREASE IN TEMPERATURE THERE, IN JUST THREE YEARS!! From 90 DEGREES (F.), the TEMPERATURE ROSE IN JULY/AUGUST TO
120 (F.)... And here a "hot chiller", as WE ARE NEXT, AND IN OUR LIFETIMES!!


Commenter: Doug L
The explicit purpose of the beaker experiment was to show that it would warm substantially faster if the earth's (sea?) ice melted. Energy content changes in the Earth's ice have been insignificant compared to the measured changes in the ocean during Hansen's so called "Smoking Gun " study which ended at the same time they started getting more accurate ocean temperature data from the new Argo system in 2003.

Hansen's study claimed he had 10 years of precise data. The publicity release with that study when read with the study left the false impression that the 10 years of precise data came from the new Argo system. Since 2003, ocean data show no warming. So now people want to know why it's not warming. It seems like the beaker study is a covert way to explain this all away and sweep untidy facts under the carpet.


Commenter: Doug L
That beaker experiment was inappropriate. No doubt you could have found a scientist to explain that to you. Perhaps that's why both scientists interviewed sounded nervous. They won't be receiving such uncritical reporting for the rest of their careers.


Commenter: Carl Johnson
Your program on oceans-climate-change was excellent, as usual. I am a Research Physicist who has worked in that field for some years. My comment is regarding the "ice cube demonstration" that Ruth Curry did. That demo is certainly correct and excellent, but it is incomplete. Around 5 years ago, I discovered that the body of the Earth's Crust has such low thermal conductivity that the Earth acts much like her ice cubes do. I had done all the calculations and found that the slowness of heat flow through the Crust causes around a 140-year lag in any rapid average temperature change of the Earth. I even found good evidence of that, such as where carbon dioxide released around 1860 was significant, and that appears to be the primary cause of the one or two degree temp rise that we have measured so far.

The point being, the massive additions of carbon dioxide that we are now doing will have a delayed effect, much like Ms. Curry's ice cubes caused, but of specifically around 140 years, and due to the "coldness" of the Earth itself regarding sudden changes.


Commenter: Chris Collins
The ice in the beaker experiment is flawed and overly simplistic:
1) Using a hot plate to represent the planets' temperature rise is a gross misrepresentation of the process of global warming.
2) There was no attempt to match the ice-to-water ratio of the polar icecaps and oceans.
3) The percentage of fresh water and salt water oceans and their specific densities were not considered, therefore proper heat transfer rates could not be represented.
4) It does not take into consideration global rainfall or freshwater inflow from rivers


Commenter: Chris O
I just watched your piece on global warming and ocean warming. Ruth Curry is using 10th grade science in an attempt to explain a extremely complex system...the ocean. I am an engineer and anyone who takes thermodynamics class can reproduce the experiment she performed. The differences between her experiment and the real life ocean and polar ice are so numerous that it is not even worth getting into, however I am very disappointed that you did not interview a thermodynamic modeler to assess the differences in her experiment and the actual ocean. Her theory would be blown to pieces, but as you know however, to the average person her experiment makes perfect since. It is shameful of you to put forth such conclusions without an opposing view. In fact the whole issue of global warming has been oversimplified and is not explained fully by any theory on the books. Every theory has holes in it. In fact, if the opposing view was shown the science against "man-made" global warming is more scientifically sound then the current theories that attempt to explain global warming. Your piece is appalling and makes assumptions on science that are not absolute. Please do better in the future and explain all sides, no matter how unpopular it makes you!


Commenter: Craig A. Moore
I just watched the global warming segment on PBS NOW and have to attribute much of it to stupidity through simplicity. The heating of the water with ice till the ice is gone and showing that is going to bring the end of all is a wrong. Statistics can show anything. Back in the 50's and 60's you can statisticaly prove Coke can prevent polio. As the sales of Coke went up, summer time, the level of polio declined. Fact was, as the sales of coke went up, everyone was going outside more often because it was hot and those going outside were less likely to transmit or catch polio. Back in dinosaur time it was very hot and humid, global warming gone wild. What did the dinosaurs do that caused that at that time? What could they have done that may have prevented that from happening. Wait, they died off because the worlds climate changed, what did they do which killed them off?


Commenter: Sophia Facciabella
Re: Your program on "Ocean Tipping Point" - Putting a stop to or even lessening the rate of global/ocean warming won't be possible without stopping the worldwide exponential population growth, which is really the cause of our ecological and political problems. Yet, politicians, religious leaders, media moguls


Commenter: Frederick
If the large number of hostile letters to NYT Tom Friedman's brave and very clear call to Americans to support Sen. Waxman's bill to probe global warming and find solutions -- SOON -- is any hint on how far this planet is "tipping" toward global disaster, then we can see it coming. In classic denial, most conservatives read Obama's in terms of more taxes. It's one thing for KBR employees in Iraq to cope with health problems their bosses ignore; it's another, more horrific matter when sea levels rise and farmland turns to dust. I'd like to be optimistic, but I find it hard. Fred Portland, OR

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Obama's Border Fence

Ocean Tipping Point?

Our Oceans: What Could Happen


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