The terms “global warming” and “climate change” are so widespread, that it seems we hear them daily in conservation, coupled with discussion over rising CO2 emissions. However, this greenhouse gas not only causes global climate and temperature issues, but CO2 also affects the ocean.
As discussed prior in a PBH blog post (Osteoporosis of the Sea), the ocean acts as a large sink for CO2. Through the process of carbon sequestration, ocean water becomes increasingly acidic. In turn, an acidic ocean influences the ability of marine calcifers and coral reefs to form their calcium carbonate skeletons.
My name is Marina Steffensen, and I am completing my Environmental Science degree at a university in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The last four years of my university career have been dedicated to the study and evaluation of human and natural influences on our planet. My interests have been mainly focused on influences we might have on our oceans. Through my university studies, I often hear of the issue of global warming in relation to CO2.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to conduct an independent research assignment for one of my science courses. I chose Ocean Acidification (OA) and came to learn and understand the this issue. OA, on the other hand, is discussed seldom and I’ve termed, the “other CO2 problem.”
It was my goal for this post was to evaluate whether my fellow university students were aware of this issue. So, I set out a mission and interviewed a random sample of 25 students in Ottawa, varying in degree discipline and year of study, asking:
- Have you heard of global warming?
- Have you heard about the “other CO2 problem”?
- Have you heard of ocean acidification?
Each of the 25 students I spoke with answered “yes” to global warming, which I expected given how often we hear this discussed in our academic setting.
But had they heard of ocean acidification? The student responses to my second question shown in the following clip, were also unanimous…
Besides global warming, these university students hadn’t heard of any other environmental issues caused by CO2. In fact, most were surprised to learn there even was another CO2 problem.
However, when told that the “other CO2 problem” was ocean acidification, around half had heard of the term, but simply had not made the connection that OA was caused by increasing CO2 emissions.
Has my sample size provided a potential bias? Or has our academic system neglected to talk about this issue? Or has the media not sufficiently covered this issue?
Also, I wonder if it is only students that are unaware of the issue? Is it only students in my school? Have environmentalists or other professionals in my area heard of OA, the “other CO2 problem”? Have adults, out of school for over a decade, heard of this ocean issue?
One student expanded her initial answer with an attention-grabbing comment in the following clip:
Is it true that unless the story is on the front page of a newspaper, or part of their schoolwork, students will not spend their free time educating themselves on environmental issues?
To investigate further, I will continue to expand my sample size, adding the following questions:
- Do you spend your free time educating yourself on environmental issues that are not part of your course work?
- If “yes,” why? And what specific environmental issues are you interested in?
- If “no,” why not?
Residing in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, our school is located in central Canada. And while we may be near the Great Lakes, the Rideau Canal, and the St Lawrence Seaway, we are still 1,400 km from Halifax, right on the East Coast of Canada and Atlantic Ocean (4,300 km from Vancouver and the West Coast of Canada). The students at my school are virtually landlocked.
In my first year of university, I remember speaking with a local conservation professional about marine environmental issues. I clearly recall her telling me that the best person to speak to in order to answer my questions would be her colleague, located on the West Coast of Canada. There wasn’t anyone in Ottawa with the expertise to answer my questions about ocean issues directly.
So, could my school’s location far from an ocean be influencing the academic curriculum taught in the school? Are ocean issues not highlighted? To what degree are students at my school limited in their ocean literacy?
If we were nearer to the ocean, would topics, such as ocean acidification, be more well-known?
In my next series of postings, I’ll be investigating these questions. My curiosity peaked, I’ll conduct additional interviews with students and professors at my school to find out what is and is not being taught about the ocean here. Stay tuned!
Marina Steffensen is currently finishing her Environmental Science Undergraduate Degree at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON, Canada. She believes that the oceans are a vital part of our world and need to be protected.