How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

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Back from the Jaws of Extinction
(Or What a Difference a Degree Makes)

Volume 4, Number 16b: 18 April 2001

In a brief note less lengthy than this review, Nature's contributing correspondent for Australasia, Peter Pockley, reports the results of a recent survey of the plants and animals on Australia's Heard Island, a little piece of real estate located 4,000 kilometers southwest of Perth. Over the past fifty years this sub-Antarctic island has experienced a local warming of approximately 1C that has resulted in a modest (12%) retreat of its glaciers; and now, for the first time in a decade, scientists are attempting to document what this warming and melting has done to the ecology of the island.

Pockley begins by stating the scientists' work has unearthed "dramatic evidence of global warming's ecological impact." Oh no, we thought. How bad can it be? But we had it wrong. The impact, as we clearly should have surmised, was positive, and dramatically so. But, in our defense, how often does one read good news about rising temperatures? And in Nature!

First off, Pockley reports on the "rapid increases in flora and fauna" that have accompanied the warming. He quotes Dana Bergstrom, an ecologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, as saying that areas that previously had been poorly vegetated are now "lush with large expanses of plants." To this information is added the fact that populations of birds, fur seals and insects have also expanded rapidly. One of the real winners in this regard is the king penguin, which, Pockley says, "has exploded from only three breeding pairs in 1947 to 25,000."

Eric Woehler of Australia's environment department is listed as a source of other equally remarkable figures, like the Heard Island cormorant's comeback from "vulnerable" status to a substantial 1,200 pairs, and fur seals emergence from "near extinction" to a population of 28,000 adults and 1,000 pups.

Yes, you read that right. The regional warming experienced at Heard Island has actually snatched these threatened animal populations from the jaws of extinction, which is a very long goodbye. So it's time to celebrate! And if CO2 is to "blame" for the "debacle," ought we not raise a glass (milk, please) to the "polluters," whose actions, most greens and climate alarmists would be forced to aver, must surely have caused this consequence? After all, responsibility does cut both ways; and if emitters of CO2 are blamed in advance for theoretical warming-induced future extinctions, they should likewise - and even more so - be thanked immediately for warming-induced rescues from extinction that have already occurred.

Dr. Craig D. Idso
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President

Pockely, P. 2001. Climate change transforms island ecosystem. Nature 410: 616.