- Category: Politics
10 Sep 2012
- Published on Monday, 10 September 2012 11:02
- Hits (1460)
While sea otters may be known as clowns of the sea – delighting observers with their aerobatics and friendly whiskered faces – a study from the University of Santa Cruz finds that they can also be unlikely climate heroes by increasing the oceans ability to store carbon dioxide.
The new study suggests that thriving sea otter pollutions can keep sea urchins in check which in turn allows kelp – a species of large seaweed – to thrive.
Kelp is particularly efficient in sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It grows quickly in thick growths of underwater “forests” that absorbs carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.
UC Santa Cruz professors Chris Wilmers and James Estes studied 40 years of data on otters and kelp bloom from Vancouver Island to the western edge of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Comparing kelp density with otters and kelp density without, they found that sea otters – which eat sea urchins – kept the urchins from overwhelming kelps growth.
Latest News - Politics
When otters are around, the study concludes, sea urchins hide in crevices and eat kelp scraps. With no otters, sea urchins gaze voraciously on living kelp.
Spreading kelp can absorb as much as 12 times the amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than if it were subject to ravenous sea urchins, the study finds.
"It is significant because it shows that animals can have a big influence on the carbon cycle," said Mr. Wilmers, who is an assistant professor of environmental studies.
Mr. Wilmers and Mr. Estes acknowledge that a spreading otter populations won’t solve the problem of atmospheric carbon dioxide, but they argue that the interactions between otters, urchins and kelp – in relation to carbon sequestration – is an example of how managing animal populations can affect an ecosystems ability to serve as carbon sinks.
The ocean is said to represent the largest long-term sink for carbon dioxide. According to a 2009 UNEP report, some 93 percent of the earth carbon dioxide is stored and cycled through the oceans. The oceans vegetated habitats such as mangroves, salt marshes, sea grasses and kelp forests form what’s called as blue carbon sinks and account for 71 percent of all carbon storage in ocean sediments.
If managed properly, blue carbon sinks – like the kelp forests – could play an important role in mitigating climate change and are also crucial for adaption strategies to reduce the vulnerability of coastal communities to climate change. – EcoSeed Staff