The oceans are dying and, of course, it’s your fault

Scientists are very, very concerned about “dead zones” in the ocean, areas of low oxygen that can kill every creature in their path.  We’re tracking one right now off the coast of Oregon, even as others around the world are shrinking.  We know they’re caused by fertilizer running off into the sea, but instead are using it as another excuse to push climate change schemes.

It is a rich irony of our times that we live in the healthiest and most prosperous era in the history of the known universe, with more food, access to healthcare, longer lifespans, and less of a risk of dying from natural disasters than any point in the past, but we’re increasingly obsessed with the notion that Earth, a ball of dirt and water some 8,000 miles across, is as fragile as a flower in a thunderstorm and we are rapidly destroying it.  We’re informed almost daily that an extinction level event, or at least a tipping point for such an event, is just a few years away, and the evidence is everywhere, from everything, whether wildfires or droughts, hurricanes or blizzards, melting ice or changing temperatures, with climate change as the driving force.

The latest fear prompted by climate change is massive “dead zones” in the ocean, areas with depleted oxygen stalking the coast and the deep seas like zombies devouring brains, killing everything in their path.  As we speak, a large dead zone, technically called a hypoxic zone, off the coast of Oregon has scientists very, very worried.  If you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon, a hypoxic zone is a region of water where the oxygen level has plummeted to the point where it becomes uninhabitable.  Fish and other creatures that can move quickly are usually able to escape, but immobile or slower marine life perishes.  These zones can occur naturally, of course, and have been a part of life in the ocean since there were oceans, but they can be exacerbated by pollutants and waste water run off particularly from nitrogen-rich fertilizer.  This runoff can stimulate a massive explosion in algae growth.  The dead algae then sink and decompose, consuming a larger amount of oxygen than normal in the process, causing the dead zone.  

The dead zone in the Pacific Ocean prompting the recent round of climate concern covers some 7,700 square miles, a fact trumpeted in every article on the topic, as if it might well swallow Oregon itself.  This is a figure that sounds quite impressive until you consider the Pacific Ocean occupies 63.8 million square miles, meaning the dead zone accounts for .01% of the total area.   It does, however, contain dead things, a fact that seemed to surprise some scientists.  “We were able to see in the middle of a low-oxygen zone, we could see sea stars and sea cucumbers, crabs, that actually suffocated and were just littered on the sea floor,” described Francis Chan, an Associate Professor at Oregon State University.  “More and more, the evidence really points strongly to climate change as being a factor,” he added, helpfully and dutifully.

Apparently, the same climate change making this one particularly large is also responsible for a recurring dead zone in the northern portion of the Gulf of Mexico that appears to be shrinking, because climate change giveth and taketh away in equal parts.  The dead zone in the Gulf has been under observation for 34 years, during which time it has changed size significantly from year to year.  In 2020, for example, it measured only 2,116 square miles, the third smallest on record.  In 2021, it increased in size again to 6,334 square miles.  Perhaps needless to say, there was a lot more coverage in the mainstream media about the increase than the decrease, even as the five year average size has declined to 5,380 square miles, a whopping 24% off the projection of 6,700.

This is because dead zones are affected by local factors like hurricanes and ocean currents, meaning most of them come and go, getting broken up and absorbed by the broader ocean.  We know this because Mr. Chan is not the only scientist blaming dead zones on climate change.  In 2015, Andrew H. Alterieri and Keryn B. Gedan of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Maryland, respectively, published a paper, “Climate change and dead zones.”  They found evidence that “suggests numerous climate variables including temperature, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, precipitation, wind, and storm patterns will affect dead zones, and that each of those factors has the potential to act through multiple pathways on both oxygen availability and ecological responses to hypoxia.”  The logic here is pretty simple:  Dead zones are affected by everything, and everything is affected by climate change, therefore dead zones are getting bigger and more frequent because of climate change, even when they are getting smaller. 

Of course, one might wonder how we know they’re getting more frequent.  In this regard, a 2008 study by VIMS Professor Robert Diaz finds they have increased in quantity by a third between 1995 and 2007.  The study tallied 405 dead zones in coastal waters, covering some 95,000 square miles, including the one in the Gulf of Mexico, which was much larger at the time, some 8,500 square miles.  Professor Diaz had been studying dead zones since the 1980s when he apparently counted 162.  Somehow, he determined there were 87 in the 1970’s, 49 in the 1960’s, and 4 in the 1910’s.  It is unclear, however, why anyone should believe these counts, especially the older ones, are accurate.  Were we looking for dead zones during World War I?  Considering that the 95,000 square miles of dead zones Professor Diaz identified accounts for only .06% of the total area of the world’s oceans, we could just as easily use the expression looking for a dead zone in the ocean instead of a needle in a haystack.

To his credit, Professor Diaz himself doesn’t attribute the increase to climate change in this paper.  Instead, he believes, correctly in my opinion, any increase is due to nutrients from fertilizer runoff and the key to reducing dead zones is “to keep fertilizers on the land and out of the sea.”  He also believes this is a goal farmers would embrace because wasted fertilizer costs money. “They certainly don’t want to see their dollars flowing off their fields into the Bay,” explained Professor Diaz. “Scientists and farmers need to continue working together to develop farming methods that minimize the transfer of nutrients from land to sea.”  In my humble opinion, this is a reasonable, achievable goal, but in the world of climate alarmism, nothing can simply end there.  Proximate causes like fertilizer runoff are almost magically transformed into ironclad evidence of climate change, usually without providing any actual evidence, and so dead zones are now the “horseman” of climate change, as in the horsemen of the apocalypse.  Seriously, scientists recently told The Washington Post exactly that recently.  Hyperbole, much?

Thus, scientists are now linking the increase in dead zones to a supposed increase in ocean temperature over the past fifty years and a corresponding decrease in oxygenation.  This is where we get deep into the absurdity of the whole endeavor.  Scientists claim ocean temperature is increasing at an average rate of .13 degrees Celsius per decade over the last hundred years.  Once again, how they could possibly measure the temperature of 139.5 million square miles and 352 quintillion gallons of water across the world’s oceans remains completely unsaid.  This is especially challenging when ocean temperature varies widely, both by region and by season.  For example, the average ocean temperature in Hawaii is 25.6 degrees Celsius.  In Anchorage, Alaska, however, the average is only 5.6 degrees. Even this can be deceiving, because in July the average is 14.4 degrees while in January it’s negative .56.  In Fahrenheit, that’s a 87% difference in a single year in one location, completely overwhelming a .13 degree difference.  There might well be that much of a difference in water temperature on the same day, meaning the number is statistically meaningless, even if we could rely on measurements of ocean temperature a hundred years ago.

Of course, it doesn’t end there.  The increase in temperature is then linked to a supposed decrease in ocean water oxygenation.  Here, scientists claim there is 2% less oxygen in the water now than there was in the 1950’s.  This decline supposedly has two causes:  Warmer ocean water holds less oxygen, therefore global warming is to blame along with fertilizer induced algae growth.  They believe both of these factors influence the oxygen in ocean water about equally, but, revisiting the differences in ocean temperature between Hawaii and Alaska, what sense does the temperature portion really make?  There is no doubt that the temperature of the water affects the oxygen it can hold; that is basic science, but if the temperature of the water can vary by 87% in a single location in a single year, how does any location hold any consistent amount of oxygen at all?  Putting this another way, if a 1.3 degree difference in temperature over a hundred years results in 1% less oxygen, how does the oxygen level in any single location remain constant enough to support life?  In addition, why do warmer, tropical waters generally support far more abundant life?

Nor are they above ridiculous fear tactics to convince you climate change is the culprit rather than focusing on fertilizer and farming tactics.  Hence, Forbes magazine reported on a reduction in ocean oxygen that occurred 94 million years ago and claims it is a warning for our time.  Professor Jeremy Owens from Florida State University studied a well-documented Oceanic Anoxic Event that resulted in large swaths of the ocean losing their oxygen.  We know of the occurrence because of oil and gas deposits from that period; when the ocean loses oxygen, bacteria cannot break down the carbon from dead animals and instead it falls to the ocean floor and through heat and pressure ultimately becomes hydrocarbon energy.  Professor Owens determined that oxygen levels started to decline 50,000 years before they dropped precipitously.  According to Forbes, “the rates of declining oxygen are similar to the rates we see today, providing these events as good analogs into Earth’s future.”  Yes, the Earth’s future, 50,000 years — not a hundred, not two hundred, not even a thousand, but 50,000 years from now.  To put this in perspective, 50,000 years ago we weren’t even painting on cave walls; we had no written language, if we even had complex language at all.  If we’re still around 50,000 years from now and can’t add a little oxygen to the ocean, we’ll have much bigger things to worry about, I can assure you.

Amazingly, this nonsensical idea, that 50,000 years of decreasing oxygen 94,000,000 years ago, is some kind of lesson for the world today wasn’t limited to Forbes.  The Atlantic ran an article “A 94-Million-Year-Old Warning About the Ocean’s Future,” Science Daily claimed a “94 million-year-old climate change event holds clues for the future,” and other supposedly academic institutions also took note. Meanwhile, back in the real world we should obviously take sensible steps to reduce fertilizer feeding algae in the ocean.  We should not, however, embrace any schemes like the Great Reset, or others that result in slashing and burning trees or cancelling meat to save the planet.  I assure you the key to reducing dead zones now isn’t reducing global temperatures 100 years from now, but of course fertilizer management isn’t quite as exciting as dealing with an existential threat.

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