Is Papua New Guinea Repairable

Landeszeitung Lüneburg: Key role of the oceans in the development of the climate. Interview with the oceanographer Prof. Martin Visbeck

11.01.2008 – 13:19

State newspaper Lüneburg

Lüneburg (ots)

The oceans play a key role in the development of the climate. In the discussion, however, they are often forgotten. One reason: The depths of the seas are more unexplored than the "seas" on the moon. This should change the new research methods, such as robots that slide independently through the sea. But it is also necessary that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change be supplemented by regional climate offices, says oceanographer Prof. Martin Visbeck. You are the spokesman for the Cluster of Excellence "The Future Ocean". Over-acidic, overheated, trawl-fished - is this what the ocean of the future will look like? Prof. Martin Visbeck: Too warm, too high, too angry - that would be too bold, hide the chances. "Understanding the ocean means shaping the future" is our motto in the network of marine sciences in Kiel. We are in the process of finding out how the ocean reacts to climate change and to the increased use by more and more people. The melting ice caps are causing the sea level to rise. In addition, the circulation patterns of ocean currents change. These also influence the sea level regionally. There is a need for research here. Around half of the greenhouse gas CO2 generated by human activity is currently stored in the oceans. There are indications that a warming ocean is losing its potential as a CO2 sink: The warming leads to increased stratification. The formation of highly CO2-binding Deep water is reduced and warm water dissolves less CO2. It is possible that the biological pump partially absorbs this: More plants produce more food for more animals - both of which are dead sinks into the depths. So far, however, the biological pump has contributed less than ten percent If the oceans swallow more CO2, this is not only positive: The slightly alkaline ocean is becoming more and more acidic. We are researching the consequences. It is to be feared that calcifying organisms such as calcareous algae, starfish, snails, mussels and corals will be affected Besides the risks, are there also potentials? Prof. Visbeck: Many - from the seabed as a possible deposit te for captured, liquefied CO2 up to the possibility of using methane "ice deposits on the continental shelf" as an energy source. Companies off the coast of Papua New Guinea are already mining copper from extinct "black smokers", metal-rich chimneys at hot deep-sea springs. Simply rejecting marine mining is not possible, but you have to try to do it in the most environmentally friendly way possible. The need for copper, for example, will grow by leaps and bounds if the Chinese and Indians also want electricity in their homes. The focus is on "blue medicine", active ingredients obtained from marine life. The disadvantage here is that only a fraction of it is known about the marine gene pool compared to that on land. In order to ensure that the economic use is sustainable, we work here in the cluster with resource economists. Because the basis for sustainable management of the oceans is understanding. Its aim is to "deepen the transfer of research results into politics". Above all, doesn't this transfer have to be accelerated? Visbeck: It has to change because there are new requirements. Up until now, the IPCC opinion has transferred new knowledge to the decision-makers every few years. This is not ideal for short-term ocean and climate signals. Because due to the time-consuming process of appraising and publishing all results, they are scientifically of very high quality, but the facts are often more than five years old. Policy advice should, however, also be provided with fresh knowledge and in response to current events. Is that also why you are calling for regional support from the IPCC? Visbeck: Exactly. Presumably, Lower Saxony is not mentioned at all in the IPCC. Nevertheless, Lower Saxony is part of climate change - not only because the consequences can also be felt here, but also because Lower Saxony's politics and economy act globally. So information is required about which regional options for action are available in order to be able to manage climate change - for example the export of energy-saving technology to emerging countries. To this end, the regional climate competence centers should also analyze local phenomena, assess risks and identify potential for protection. The IPCC cannot comment on every storm surge, but someone has to do it in an informed manner. What should regional climate service providers do differently than the IPCC? Visbeck: You would have to use scientifically approved procedures with which data on climate events can be recorded on site and forecasts can be made. Some of the effects of climate change are not obvious: the rise in sea level can affect the farmers of the Elbmarsch. If the sea presses harder into the river, shallower wells - from which they obtain the water for their cattle - can become too salty. We still know less about the seas than we do about the moon. "Teenagers" are supposed to change how they call their diving robots. Have they already met the high expectations off Mallorca, Greenland and in the north-east Atlantic? Visbeck: Yes, but they are really still teenagers, so they also pose surprising problems. We were the first in Europe to use gliders as research platforms, that is, unmanned diving robots that move very slowly underwater - so to speak, sail . First, oil is pumped into the two-meter-long, yellow glider. Heavier than water, it sinks to a depth of up to 1000 meters and sails forward with its small wings. Then the glider pumps the oil out into a rubber bladder, increases its volume and thus rises. It measures the oxygen content, salinity, pressure and temperature of the water and sends them to satellites on the water surface every 46 hours - for about three months. In addition, there are around 3,000 drifters in the oceans of the world, they measure the upper 2,000 meters of the oceans every ten days, but can only move with the current. In Kiel we expect a lot from the use of glider swarms. A dozen or so gliders scan a limited area of ​​the sea in parallel. This is a modern, relatively inexpensive type of marine research that complements exploration by ship. Melting Greenland ice could slow the Gulf Stream by 30 percent by 2100. Will Europe then experience an ice age in the greenhouse earth? Visbeck: No, not that. It is true that fresh water makes the surface layer lighter, so that even in winter it is no longer dense and heavy enough to sink to great depths. If this subsidence weakens, less - warmer - water is transported north towards Europe. If this density-driven part of the "Gulf Stream" circulation were to decrease due to natural water input, it could actually become 1-2 degrees colder in Europe. In fact, we do not expect deep circulation to weaken until global warming increases. So here it would only be 1-4 degrees warmer instead of 3-6 degrees. Slowing down the Gulf Stream also reduces the ability to absorb CO2. Are various climate change phenomena intensifying? Visbeck: That is one of the most exciting questions in climate research. Perhaps the "second" tonne of CO2 emitted is more dangerous than the "first" because of feedback effects. A weakened Gulf Stream takes less greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and the temperature rises more. Warmed, more stratified water can store less CO2. These effects are worrying. You want to develop sustainable management of the oceans worldwide. Against the background of the race of nations for the treasures of the Arctic: Does sustainability stand a chance against interests? Prof. Visbeck: That is the discussion that we are promoting in our cluster. Economic interests often conflict with those of the ocean as a habitat. The current race is due not least to the fact that the rules of the game as to which part of the sea floor should be assigned to countries and which part remains common property have only recently been established. There is still no map of the sea floor that has been matched by all of the neighboring countries and that allows reliable demarcation of the boundaries. This has an unpleasant consequence for researchers: You can currently no longer charter a research ship. Everyone is traveling for nations to map the continental shelf. It was only in 2007 that Europe realized that it had more area under water than above water. The yield in the networks has been falling steadily since 1994. One in four marine fish species is critically endangered. Do man destroy the sea before he has learned to understand it? Visbeck: The pressure on fish stocks has indeed increased considerably. It is questionable to what extent this damage can be repaired by switching to sustainable fishing. If fishermen were given the property rights to shoals, for example, they would have a vested interest in preserving the stocks. Unlike before, where it is only a matter of capturing as much as possible of the common property. But this also requires real nature conservation in the form of large-scale reserves in the sea, in which fishing and other forms of marine use are taboo. The cod stocks off Newfoundland are no longer recovering despite the fishing ban, probably because of the warming of the sea. Will climate change give the overfished stocks the rest? Prof. Visbeck: Climate change is helpful for some fish species and harmful to others. It is causing shifts in ecosystems. Unfortunately, until a few years ago, fish quotas were determined by the success of the previous fishery - not by considerations of conservation, but even before that When setting EU catch quotas, the scientific aspects are heard, but they are not decisive the. Knowledge-based methods do exist, but often cannot be implemented due to political realities - this is how the mistakes of the past are repeated. In the 1940s and 1950s, fishing was industrialized without knowing what it was causing. Today we know that, but we do it anyway. More and more of the fish we eat will come from fish farms. However, there are many harmful fish farms. We naturally propagate the sustainable ones. Will the voice of science be heard on climate protection - unlike with quotas? Visbeck: The words are there, but the necessary deeds are missing. Climate change is without question a very great challenge for humans. But even when you are under stress, you should keep a cool head and not choose the next best solution. We are worried, for example, about hasty decisions, such as the proposed fertilization of the ocean in order to additionally buffer away CO2. Such engineering pranks are cheap compared to reducing CO2 emissions, but usually one would drive the devil out with the Beelzebub. The interview was conducted by Joachim Zießler

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