Kelp and Global Climate Change

Anneliese MollBY ANNELIESE MOLL
For the UAS Whalesong

Kelp forests are important for a wide variety of reasons. These amazing forests provide habitats for many species of marine organisms and are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. They have a dramatic impact on the strength of currents within an area because of the drag they create with their large blades. That drag slows the water within the bed, which makes it a perfect shelter and feeding ground for many species ranging from worms and fish to sea otters and other larger marine mammals. Apex predators—in this case the most commonly thought of predator is the sea otter—play a huge role within these ecosystems because of their indirect effects on the kelp.

While kelp beds are important for many species of marine organisms, humans have also found many applications for commercial use. Many places around the world have large-scale kelp harvesting programs. Depending on the species of kelp and the type of harvest all or only the upper section of the canopy may be harvested. Kelp has many commercial applications: algin, food, pharmaceuticals, fireproofing fabrics, fertilizer, and more recently it is being considered as an alternative energy source.

Beyond human and animal use kelp forests play another vital role that has implications around the world. Kelp forests play a vital role in carbon sequestering, the long-term storage of carbon. However, climate change may have a negatively influencing affect on kelp beds though change in temperature. A change in temperature can alter the geographical range and seasonal distribution of kelp, which would have a huge impact on the organisms that rely on kelp forests.

At one point or another you have probably heard about global climate change, how there is an ongoing rise in average temperature close to the surface of the Earth, and how this is causing dramatic changes to global climate patterns. Charles David Keeling, a scientist from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, began measuring atmospheric CO2 in 1958. This study was conducted with the utmost precision and accuracy and because of the length of his research Keeling created “one of the most important scientific linkages between fossil fuel combustion and global climate change due to the greenhouse effect (ACS Natural Historic Chemical Landmarks).” The graph representing this data is known as the Keeling Curve. If you are interested, on the Scripps website they have a graph that can show you what the latest CO2 readings are as well as historically.

From November 30th to December 11th of this year there is a United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Paris. This will be the first time in roughly 20 years of United Nations negotiations where will create a universal agreement on climate change with the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to limit further global temperature increase. Global climate change is an issue that spans borders and oceans and impacts everyone.

References

American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmarks. The Keeling Curve. http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/keeling-curve.html (November 21, 2015).
Wilmers, C. C., Estes, J. A., Edwards, M., Laidre, K. L., & Konar, B. (2012). Do trophic cascades affect the storage and flux of atmospheric carbon? An analysis of sea otters and kelp forests. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10(8), 409-415.

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