Earth's climate puzzle

Earth's climate and weather can be a real puzzle!

Welcome to Climate4Kids, a blog where you can learn about how climate works, how weather works and many more wonders of planet earth.  

Computer Climate Games

This article contains artwork developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Electronic Arts Inc.

Birds Disappearing

Why so many birds are disappearing.

This article contains artwork developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Electronic Arts Inc.

Update on "When Extinction Isn't"

Seven years ago, the Aldara banded snail was declared extinct.  It was said to have gone extinct due to climate change.   Reports said it was one of the first species to have been lost to climate change.  The theory was that declining rainfall on their atoll had caused the snails all to die out.

Once again, nature proved to be much more capable of handling change than some scientists believe it can.  The small snail was found by a team of researchers.

Many news articles say climate change is still a threat to these snails.  It's so sad that humans can't celebrate the tough little snail instead of worrying about its future.  Nature is so remarkable and fascinating.   Enjoy it.

When Extinction Isn't

There is much talk of climate change leading to animal extinctions. The belief is more and more animals will go extinct because they cannot adapt. Humans are really very poor at knowing if animals are gone from the planet, however. Here are examples of animals science declared extinct, only to find the very resilient animals still out there.

A very large fish believed to go extinct 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The fish was discovered in 1938 off the shore of Southern Africa.
Bermuda petrel
A small sea bird thought to be extinct 330 years ago. Eighteen nesting pairs were found in 1951in Castle Harbor (Bermuda).

Chacoan peccary
This critter was first described in 1930 based on fossils. It was believed to be extinct. In 1971, living peccaries were discovered in Argentina.

Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
The original Lord Howe Island Stick insects disappeared after rats escaped from a ship that ran aground. The rats had a taste for the insects. By 1960, the insects were declared extinct. In 2001, they were rediscovered on Ball's Pyramid, a volcanic stack 23 km (14 miles) from Lord Howe Island, living under the one bush growing on the very barren island. Two were brought back and breeding was tried. That attempt failed, but later, another pair did reproduce in captivity. If the rats can be removed by 2015, the scientists hope to reintroduce the insect to Lord Howe Island.

A fairly large flightless bird thought to be extinct after the last four specimens were taken in 1894. Then in 1948, after searching for the birds, a few pairs were found on the South Island, New Zealand.

Cuban solenodon
A rat-like animal found in 1861 and then thought to be extinct since no others were found. In 1974/1975 three were rediscovered in Cuba. Only 37 specimens have ever been caught.

New Caledonian Crested Gecko
Specimens were described in 1866 then none found until 1994. This gecko is popular in the pet trade, which greatly increased the species numbers and chances of remaining "not extinct".

New Holland mouse
First described in 1843 but not seen thereafter, the mouse was believed to be extinct until 1967 when it was rediscovered in Australia.

Giant Palouse earthworm
This very large worm was first seen in 1897, but disappeared thereafter. In 2010, scientists located the worm in Washington and Idaho.

Black-footed ferret
Identified in 1851, the ferret was declared extinct in 1979. In 1981, a rancher in Wyoming had a dog bring home a dead ferret. A colony was located and trapped, then a captive breeding program started. These have been reintroduced to the wild in several states.

Javan Elephant
In the 1800's the Java elephant was declared extinct. In 2006, a group of these elephants were discovered on Java Island, where they had been transplanted by a Sultan. The animal's survival was enabled by the transplant.

(no photo)

Mountain Pygmy possum
These critters were discovered in the fossil record and believed to be extinct. In 1996, some possums were discovered at a sky resort in New South Wales.

(no photo)

Pygmy tarsier
This animal looks very much like a Furby ( a child's toy, if you are not familiar with the Furby). They were believed to be extinct in the early 20th century. In 2000, they were discovered in Indonesia.

Caspian Horse
Last sighting of this horse was in 637 AD. In 1965, s person looking for a small horse for her children to ride found a small horse in northern Iran that resembled more a horse than pony. Additional research showed it to be the Caspian Horse.

Gilbert's potoroo
Discovered in 1840, the Gilbert's potoroo was considered extinct for 120 years before being found in 1994 in Australia.

Monito del Monte

A marsupial considered to be extinct for 11 million years, found only in fossil records. Then a population of these critters was found in Chile and Argentina.

As you can see from this list, which is not a complete list, we humans are not very accurate when saying things are "extinct". Just because we cannot find an animal does not mean they are gone.  Of course, some are, no doubt extinct (dinosaurs are, as are dodo birds and passenger pidgeons as far as we know) .  That's part of survival of the adequately fit that is seen in evolution.  Some species survive and others do not.  However, when people start predicting species extinctions and saying how bad this would be, remember these animals that fooled science and survived sometimes for millions of years as a species.  

(Photos are all from Wikipedia) 

Ocean Acidification, part 2 Should we be worried? (Part one is below this post)

Now that we have a basic understanding of pH, let's look at the small drop in alkalinity in the ocean.

First, the ocean is one of the major "holders" for carbon--only rocks hold more (the rocks have dead plant and animal parts in them which is how they hold carbon). Note: Carbon and carbon dioxide are not the same thing, but unfortunately, people use them interchangeably. The "carbon" in the ocean is both carbon and carbon dioxide. (Carbon is an element meaning it is one atom, carbon dioxide is a compound meaning it has more than one atom and these are joined together). The ocean is the largest CO2 reservoir when compared to air, land, and plants.  CO2 is naturally dissolved in the ocean.

CO2 in ocean water becomes carbonic acid (H2CO3):

However, only about .4% (4 molecules out of 1000 molecules of dissolved CO2) becomes carbonic acid. Most CO2 stays as dissolved CO2, kind of like soda, without the fizz.

Several things affect how much CO2 is dissolved--cold water holds more CO2, saltier water holds more CO2 and deep water with high pressure holds more. Plus the amount of CO2 in the air above the water effects how much CO2 goes into the water. Deep oceans are colder and have higher pressure so they can hold the most CO2.

After carbonic acid forms, there is a second and third splitting of molecules like this:



Then another transformation, losing 1 hydrogen atom but keeping the electron.


This breakdown of carbonic acid occurs very soon after the acid has formed, meaning most of the carbonic acid quickly becomes carbonate and bicarbonate.

Carbonate ions are used by some sea life to combine with the calcium (Ca2+) ions in the ocean--which come from dissolved limestone in part--to build shells. Limestone is dissolved by the carbonic acid and releases the Ca2+.

What happens if more CO2 is added to the ocean?  More hydrogen ions are formed (H+) and combine with the carbonate, forming bicarbonate and taking away the carbonate ions.  

Ocean chemistry is very complex and cannot be fully discussed here.  While the amount of carbonic acid formed is small, remember that each molecule adds two hydrogen ions when the acid breaks down, which increases the pH of the ocean.  The carbonate ions are used by shelled critters, which takes some of the carbonate out of the ocean.  The different parts of the system are very intertwined.  

Why are some scientists worried about carbonic acid increasing in the ocean? Perhaps you have read scary headlines like "ocean dissolving shellfish due to acidity". Then maybe a teacher has you soak a shell in vinegar and see how it dissolves. Problem: the ocean is not filled with vinegar. One acid does not substitute for another except in special cases. Vinegar has a pH of 2, carbonic acid is pH 5.7. The two acids are not close in pH nor in chemical structure. The "experiment" leads to a false conclusion. Put a shell in ocean water and you'll get a more realistic conclusion. (You may be much older before you see changes. It's a very slow process.) Still, without a living organism and the surroundings of the ocean, any conclusion reached may be wrong. We must study the creatures in their own environments, not a lab. Certainly never with a substance that is "sort of like" the one we are actually researching.

The pH of the ocean changes very slowly and allow time for the residents to adapt to the pH changes.  Any experiment that does not take this into account is not going to tell us anything about ocean life adapting.  Research on pH changes in the ocean takes time, much time.

The changing of the pH of the ocean may affect some sea life, but there's not enough evidence to actually say this is a threat to the planet.

Before global warming became a big deal, ocean life dying due to pH changes would have been considered natural selection, part of evolution. For reasons unknown, science seems to have decided if humans might have caused something, it's not evolution, it's a disaster. There is no good reason for this. Species have gone extinct in the time before humans and will continue to do so even if humans try very hard not to affect the earth. Plus, humans are part of the world, so no matter what we do, people are going to have some impact and that is not a bad thing. We shouldn't just wipe out species because we can, but we can't stop the world every time we think a species will become extinct. Nor should we.

Remember the statement about CO2 being temperature dependent? Anywhere the ocean warms, it releases CO2 and where it's cooler, it absorbs it. Currents move the CO2 deep into the ocean, where the pressure is high. Rather than being afraid, we should be marveling at how very efficient the earth is at maintaining itself.

The oceans will survive and thrive no matter what humans do. Yes, different species may thrive while others dies out, but that is the way the world works. Change is something to learn from and look forward to. Few things in the world stay the same for millions of years or several hundred years.