Tag: carbon

UCSC biologist: Sea otters could help fight climate change

From the San Jose Mercury News and Santa Cruz Sentinel, an interesting article relating our recent otter/carbon paper to California’s new carbon emission trading program.

Designated by the California Air Resources Board, carbon offset credits qualify as environmental processes scientifically proven to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The board has four carbon offset categories: forestry management, tree planting in urban areas, capture and destruction of methane emissions from livestock manure, and destruction of coolant gases. Whereas the first two directly suck carbon out of the atmosphere, the latter two eliminate existing greenhouse gases.

Legally establishing these categories takes time. The forestry project alone took a decade to make scientific sense within the framework of carbon credits, said board spokesman Stanley Young.

Otters currently do not fit into any of these categories. And Wilmers, an assistant professor in UCSC’s Environmental Studies Department, acknowledges that getting them in the game would be difficult.
“Literally trying to do that in the future would take a lot of work,” he said.

But officials involved in evaluating offset programs for the board say the idea is not entirely out of the question. The board, eventually, intends to expand its list. A wetland management category, for example, is among the most promising potential additions — and has been in the works for several years.

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Webinar on sea otter impacts on ecosystem carbon

I gave a webinar on our work on sea otters and ecosystem carbon through the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy yesterday.  Check it out below…

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Otters’ Effect on Kelp Offers Clues to Predators’ Link to CO2

From KUSP, another nice NPR piece about our sea otter research.  Clink on the play button below to listen.

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Why the Beaver Should Thank the Wolf

From the NY Times, a great op-ed piece connecting our work on sea otters with wolves and elk in Yellowstone!  Couldn’t be more perfect.  Notice the little Sea Otter poking his head out of the reads below the elk.

Scientists call this sequence of impacts down the food chain a “trophic cascade.” The wolf is connected to the elk is connected to the aspen is connected to the beaver. Keeping these connections going ensures healthy, functioning ecosystems, which in turn support human life.

Another example is the effect of sea otters on kelp, which provides food and shelter for a host of species. Like the aspen for the elk, kelp is a favorite food of sea urchins. By hunting sea urchins, otters protect the vitality of the kelp and actually boost overall biodiversity. Without them, the ecosystem tends to collapse; the coastal reefs become barren, and soon not much lives there.

Read the full article here.

Here’s the full photo!

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Otters and Climate Change

From NPR – Living on Earth a nice radio piece on our recent sea otter article.  Just press on the play button below to listen.

 

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Sea Otters Strike a Blow for the Environment?

From National Geographic, a short well-done article on our recent sea otter – carbon pub.

When hungry sea otters whack spiky urchins against rocks on their chests, the mammals may also be striking a blow against global warming.

By preying on urchins—which themselves devour greenhouse gas-absorbing kelp forests—the sea otters encourage the plants to flourish.

The result? An otter-assisted kelp forest “can absorb as much as 12 times the amount of CO2 [carbon dioxide] from the atmosphere than if it were subject to ravenous sea urchins,” according to the study, published Friday in the journal Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment.

Based on a new analysis of 40 years of data on both otters and Pacific kelp forests off Alaska and Canada, the study concludes that “otters ‘undoubtedly have a strong influence’ on the cycle of CO2 storage,” if only in their local environments.

So are sea otters the new global warming “warriors,” as some headlines have it?

Not exactly, said Jeffrey Dukes of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center in Indiana.

The otter-induced increase in CO2 absorption is “relatively inconsequential in terms of the big picture of climate change,” said Dukes, who wasn’t part of the study. But, he added, it’s “an interesting study identifying how dramatically a predator can alter the cycling of carbon in an ecosystem.”

Study co-author Chris Wilmers, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, agreed that the offset is “unlikely to have a big effect on global warming” worldwide.

But while otters alone can’t do the job, such seemingly incremental, natural advantages may become ever more important as we look for ways to blunt climate change’s impacts, according to study co-author James Estes, also of UC Santa Cruz.

“The general phenom in which the interactions between species are linked to the carbon cycle,” he said, “is going to be very important.”

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