Tag Archives: maps

Local Foods Project in Scotland

Local Highland cattle in Scotland

Ed Harris, a postgrad researcher at the Institute for Geography in the University of Edinburgh, is making some really interesting inquiries into the role of local foods in alternative food networks. As he puts it:

‘Alternative food networks’ is a term used to describe the wide range of food production-consumption options which are presented as alternatives to ‘conventional’ food networks – globalized agri-food businesses.

Localization of food systems is often advocated as a way to reestablish connections between producers and consumers, and as a way to achieve specific social and environmental goals. Advocates of local food systems often state that:

  • Eating locally reduces the food miles (and therefore carbon emissions) of food
  • Eating locally will support the local economy and help reconnect consumers with the producers of their food

A local food system is often represented as intrinsically ‘good’, compared to a conventional globalized food system which is ‘bad’.

It is this idea of the ‘local’ as automatically ‘good’ or ‘better than the non-local’ that this research examines. [emphasis added] (here)

As part of his research, Ed is interviewing people involved in Scotland’s local and alternative food networks, ranging from “consumer-activist groups engaging with eating locally, through small-scale producers on local farms, to community groups working to improve access to local food.”

I find his research fascinating, and look forward to hearing about his results. I also appreciate his sensitivity towards the perception of local foods as something just for the elite. As he says,

It is important that local food systems are socially inclusive, and do not simply operate alongside conventional food systems as an alternative for those with the means to buy into them. It is also important that we do not jump towards local produce to reduce food miles without recognising the effect that seasonality and energy-use in production can also have on the carbon emissions related to food. (here)

In addition to his on-going research project, Ed also has a well-maintained and informative blog, which covers local foods, policy, and news in both the US and UK, with an intellectual bent. Don’t miss the weekly local food news round-up! Some of my recent favorite posts:

A summary of how much food is wasted in the UK annually. It’s really a shocking amount.

Are GM foods the Answer to the Global Food Crisis? A thoughtful analysis of the possibility of using genetically modified crops to increase yields.

A look at an awesome project by UW-Madison undergrads who made an online map of foods within 100 miles of Madison, Wisconsin.

Go check it out!

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NYC Food Deserts: Talk and Action

The folks over at Slow Food USA recently highlighted this blog in their recent post about the troubling incidence of food deserts nationwide. You can see my previous writing on both rural and urban food deserts here.

They mentioned two articles from last week’s New York Times that I’ve been meaning to talk about. The first, The Lost Supermarket: A Breed in Need of Replenishment, has an awkward title but is a good article. Instead of just chronicling the distressing lack of supermarkets in areas that need them desperately, talks about why supermarkets are conspicuously absent in neighborhoods such as East Harlem. The article, a by-product of a recent study by the New York City Department of City Planning, shows some shocking numbers:

According to the food workers union, only 550 decently sized supermarkets — each occupying at least 10,000 square feet — remain in the city. [The study] estimated that as many as three million New Yorkers live in what are considered high-need neighborhoods — communities characterized by not enough supermarkets and too many health problems. Within those dense, urban areas, the study estimated that 750,000 people live more than five blocks from a grocery or supermarket.

“Many people in low-income neighborhoods are spending their food budget at discount stores or pharmacies where there is no fresh produce,” said Amanda Burden, the city’s planning director. “In our study, a significant percentage of them reported that in the day before our survey, they had not eaten fresh fruit or vegetables. Not one. That really is a health crisis in the city.”

The study, which was released last Friday, found that there is enough need in the city to support another 100 groceries or supermarkets.

That’s a lot of new grocery stores – nearly 20% more. That’s also a lot of people who are un- or under-served by neighborhood grocery stores, more than a third of New York city’s population, according to the 2000 census. That’s an unacceptably high number. And it’s a safe bet that it’s the elderly, poor, and people of color who are the ones left holding the short end of the stick. Even if you’re mobile and well off it’s a pain to get to a supermarket that might be several miles away, but it’s even more challenging if you can’t walk far, or have to take the bus, or have to work so many hours that it’s very difficult to get to a far-away store before it closes. All of those factors make frequent grocery shopping, and hence eating perishable things, like spinach or fresh tomatoes, much less likely.

It’s unsurprising, really, that the lack of supermarkets and high rates of obesity and diabetes would be correlated, and particularly concentrated in minority and poor neighborhoods.

There’s a summary of the study, titled Going to Market: New York City’s Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage here, and a slide show with more detailed analysis here. All of the above maps were taken from the slide show presentation of the study.

The second article, equally clumsily titled City Farmers’ Crops Go From Vacant Lot to Market, discusses several inner-city farmers and gardeners in New York who grow enough to both provide themselves and sell the surplus.

The city’s cultivators are a varied lot. The high school students at the Added Value community farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, last year supplied Italian arugula, Asian greens and heirloom tomatoes to three restaurants, a community-supported agriculture buying club and two farmers’ markets.

In the South Bronx a group of gardens called La Familia Verde started a farmers’ market in 2003 to sell surpluses of herbs like papalo and the Caribbean green callaloo.

At a less established operation, the Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s Bed-Stuy Farm, mission staff members began growing produce in the vacant lot behind their food pantry in 2004, and ended up with a surplus last year. So they enlisted their teenage volunteers to run a sidewalk farm stand selling collards, tomatoes and figs; this year they plan to open a full farmers’ market.

How did this happen? Opportunity and assistance. The farmers and gardeners wanted to grow, and other groups pitched in to help make it possible. But the real drive, the factor that made these small plots a success, was their community. Its hard to farm in a city, but it is possible, and it can work well, as the story of Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes shows.

The Wilkses’ return to farming began in 1990 when their daughter planted a watermelon in their backyard. Before long, Mrs. Wilks, an administrator in the city’s Department of Education, was digging in the yard after work. Once their ambition outgrew their yard, she and Mr. Wilks, a city surveyor, along with other gardening neighbors, received permission to use a vacant lot across from a garment factory at the end of their block.

They cleared it of trash and tested its soil with help from GreenThumb, a Parks Department gardening program. They found traces of lead, so to ensure their food’s safety, they built raised beds of compost. (Heavy metals are common contaminants in city soil because of vehicle exhaust and remnants of old construction. Some studies have found that such ground can be cultivated as long as the pH is kept neutral.)

They wanted their crops to be organic, a commitment they shared with many other farmers in this grimy landscape. They planted some marigolds to deter squirrels; they have not had rat problems, which can plague urban gardens; and they abandoned crops, like corn, that could attract rodents. They put up fences to thwart other pests — thieves and vandals — and posted signs to let people know that this was a garden and no longer a dump.

There were also benefits to farming in the city. The Wilkses took advantage of city composting programs, trucking home decomposed leaves from the Starrett City development in Brooklyn and ZooDoo from the Bronx Zoo’s manure composting program. They got free seedlings from GreenThumb and took courses on growing and selling food from the City Farms project at the local nonprofit Just Food.

“The city really has been good to us,” Mrs. Wilkes said. “All of the property we work on, it’s city property.”

The Wilkses now cultivate plots at four sites in East New York, paying as little as $2 a bed (usually 4 feet by 8 feet) in addition to modest membership fees. Last year the couple sold $3,116 in produce at a market run by the community group East New York Farms, more than any of their neighbors.

Clearly it will take more than a couple of small plots in formerly-abandoned lots to turn things around in terms of access to fruits and vegetables. But the example of the Wilkses and the other people growing appealing and nutritious produce for their neighbors, and working across all sorts of groups, offers a hopeful start.

The Leviathan of Scale, or, Can McDonald’s and Wal-Mart Help Save the World?

mcdonalds-sign.jpg

America, as a nation, adores fast food. The story of McDonald’s, brainchild of the McDonald brothers in California in the late 1940’s, then bought, franchised and expanded by Ray Kroc

in the 1950’s, can be read as a typically American story of starting from nothing and triumphing over the odds to achieve great success. The iconic styling of the restaurants, as well as McDonald’s symbiosis with the automobile, capture a particular moment in the American psyche, when all things were possible and bigger was better, in both tail fins and franchises.

retro-mcdonalds.jpg

Today, there are over 13,000 McDonald’s franchises, far outnumbering Burger King (7,000+) and Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s (about 6,000 each). This lovely map by Ian Spiro at fastfoodmaps.com maps fast food outlets in the U.S., and the numbers are truly staggering.

Here’s a map of just the McDonald’s:

mcdonalds-map.jpg

And another map of McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, KFC, Jack in the Box, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr, and In-N-Out:

all-fast-food-map.jpg

The map doesn’t even include the smaller chains like Roy Rogers, White Castle, Subway, Blimpie, Quiznos, Dunkin’ Donuts, Whataburger, or Chick-fil-A, or the slightly more upscale ‘fast casual’ of chains like Panera Bread or Chipotle. McDonald’s also has about 1,000 Canadian franchises, 10,500+ international franchises, and about 8,000 company-owned international locations worldwide.

With numbers like that, it’s not surprising that McDonald’s is the largest American purchaser of beef, potatoes, and pork, and the second largest of chicken, according to Eric Schlosser’s 2001 book, Fast Food Nation.

At this scale, McDonald’s purchasing guidelines have an enormous impact on their suppliers and the farmers who supply the food. The 2005 introduction of the fruit & walnut salad, part of an effort to provide more ‘healthy’ food choices, really shows the gargantuan effect McDonald’s has. Essentially overnight, since the introduction of the salad in 2005, McDonald’s has become the largest purchaser of apples in the U.S., over 54 million pounds a year.

As an article in the Guardian explains,

McDonald’s … now buys more apples than any other restaurant chain in the United States. And if the product … takes off, it has the potential to transform an entire agricultural industry. The chain’s influence could alter for ever the method and scale of production, the varieties of apple produced, and the rights of the thousands of workers who pick them, and not necessarily for the better.

Big retail buyers such as Wal-Mart and Safeway have already started this process. Experience in other sectors suggests that, at some stage, the balance of power shifts, and the buyer dictates the terms. Already, retailers demand an apple that is 3ins in diameter – the optimum size to maximise the number that can be displayed within a square foot, while remain appealing to the consumer.

The entry into the market of McDonald’s, which prides itself on the fact that its meals taste the same wherever you are in the world, will only accelerate this trend towards uniform mass consumption. The bigger a producer, the greater the likelihood that McDonald’s will want to do business with it because it will be able to provide everything the chain needs. “It will want large volumes of uniform apples that have to be the same variety and the same size,” says Desmond O’Rourke, economist and publisher of World Apple Report. ” And it wants to deal with large shippers who can produce those numbers.

Another article in the New York Times touches on the same problem: the increased vertical integration of the suppliers, and the increased scale and standardization necessary, are squeezing out the smaller growers. The article continues,

Other advocacy groups said that they were hopeful that McDonald’s would one day use its power not only to get better prices and greater supply, but also to change the way the produce industry operates – for the better. Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy group based in Little Marais, Minn., said he would like to see McDonald’s buy some organic products, which he believes are more healthful for consumers.

In a 2003 report on pesticides in produce, the Environmental Working Group, a public-policy outfit based in Washington, ranked apples as the third-most-contaminated produce group, after peaches and strawberries, in terms of pesticide residue. The findings were based on tests done by the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration from 1992 to 2001.

“McDonald’s could have a huge impact,” Mr. Cummins said. “They could be the company that changes agriculture toward a more organic and sustainable model.” It may sound far-fetched, but from a company that’s come a long way from the days of selling mainly hamburgers and fries, anything is possible.

What would a shift by McDonald’s towards organic apples, or organic potatoes and hamburger look like? The recent push by Wal-Mart towards stocking greater amounts of organic produce suggests that it wouldn’t really be all that different from the standard model, just with a bit fewer pesticides and drugs. Given the purchasers’ requirements of uniformity and scale, organic products destined for McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are still overwhemingly going to be produced by large growers and conglomorates via large-scale monocrop methods. Furthermore, an article from BusinessWeek in 2007 examines the ‘organic-ness’ of Wal-Mart and finds it lacking:

Now there are questions about whether “the Wal-Mart price” might come at a cost to organic foods. State officials in Wisconsin have launched an investigation into the retailer’s practices after complaints that Wal-Mart may be misleading consumers. A central question is whether signs on store shelves and banners above the shelves describe foods as “organic,” while the foods nearby do not qualify for the label, under federal guidelines.

Retailers and farmers involved in organic foods worry that giants like Wal-Mart may muddy the waters about what is and is not organic. Some are upset over the allegations and wonder whether other supermarkets will take steps similar to those alleged. “A huge amount of work went into coming up with a standard of quality in the organic industry,” says Randy Lee, CFO at PCC Natural Markets, the largest co-op operating in the U.S., which runs eight stores in the Seattle area. “If these allegations are true, then it very easily erodes those standards and comes with a significant business impact on other retailers that have higher standards.”

The watchdog group that prompted the Wisconsin investigation is called The Cornucopia Institute and has been active in what it calls “family-scale” farming. It has produced photographs of items that are not certified organic or are only partially organic that appear on shelves at Wal-Mart with banners or signs that say “Wal-Mart Organics.” The photos from Cornucopia show items that could be easily mistaken for organic. Many have descriptions such as “all natural” or “natural,” including Stonyfield Farms All Natural Yogurt and Florida Crystals natural sugar.

Still, even though an organic Wal-Mart apple or bag of lettuce mix would be produced in enormous commercial operations, it would still not be as input-intensive as conventional large-scale farming. And given the scale of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, that’s a lot of fertilizer and pesticides not being applied.

Simply put, Wal-Mart’s potential influence is too large to be ignored. Wal-Mart is the world’s largest largest public corporation by revenue, and the largest private employer. In the U.S., Wal-Mart sells 20% of all groceries, 22% of toys, and is the largest private user of electricity. Due to this mind-boggling scale, even small changes by Wal-Mart are magnified to have a big effect.

A 2006 Fortune article describes Wal-Mart’s various efforts to go ‘green.’ These environmental initiatives, launched in 2005, didn’t grow out of a sudden concern for the environment. Rather, the company faced serious business and PR problems, including a class-action suit alleging sex discrimination, a damaging report showing that Wal-Mart paid 30% less to insure its workers, and millions of dollars in fines for violating air and water pollution laws.

A meeting in 2004 between Conservation International, Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott, and Rob Walton led to a simple conclusion:

“Wal-Mart could improve its image, motivate employees, and save money by going green.”

Wal-Mart’s own efforts, from slimming down packaging and reducing gas used in transportation, have a huge effect due to the enormous size of the company.

“Wal-Mart installed machines called sandwich balers in its stores to recycle and sell plastic that it used to throw away. Companywide, the balers have added $28 million to the bottom line.”

However, the most important and interesting of Wal-Mart’s new environmental initiative is it’s role as a major intermediary between manufacturers and consumers. As the Fortune article points out,

If Wal-Mart influenced the behavior of a fraction of its 1.8 million employees or the 176 million customers that shop there every week, the impact would be huge. And because of the extraordinary clout Wal-Mart wields with its 60,000 suppliers, it could make even more of a difference by influencing their practices.

This is why Wal-Mart’s eco-initiative is potentially more world-changing than, say, GE’s. GE sells fuel-efficient aircraft engines and billion-dollar power plants to a few customers. Wal-Mart sells organic cotton, laundry soap, and light bulbs to millions. When shoppers see a display promoting “the bulb that pays for itself, again and again and again,” they’ll be reminded of their own environmental impact.

By buying CF bulbs they’ll also save money on their utility bills, leaving them more money to spend at, you guessed it, Wal-Mart. The bigger idea here is that poor and middle-income Americans are every bit as interested in buying green products as are the well-to-do, so long as they are affordable.

Plenty of places sell fair-trade coffee, for example. Only Wal-Mart sells it for $4.71 a pound. “The potential here is to democratize the whole sustainability idea–not make it something that just the elites on the coasts do but something that small-town and middle America also embrace.”

Maybe this will work, maybe Wal-Mart’s market saturation will enable it to preach the (consumerist) organic gospel to potential new converts. Or maybe Wal-Mart’s entry into the organic battle will result in a further dilution of the USDA organic standards, while continuing the company’s pattern of consolidation and vertically integrated manufacturing, continuing to squeeze out smaller producers and retailers. It’s hard to say, but I’m not willing to bet the sustainable future on Wal-Mart, whose goal, after all, is maintaining its business and stock price.

Orchards in the City

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As well as nascent re-emergence of the the ‘back-to-the land’ movement, there’s also a parallel ‘back-to-my-tiny-city-plot-or-planter’ movement. People are increasingly moving beyond a few tomato plants and some herbs in some pots, and are increasingly putting in gardens, even orchards, in sometimes truly tiny spaces. In addition to the older, established city fruit trees, more city gardeners are branching out into orchards, as a recent New York Times article demonstrates. Fruit tree sales have increased substantially, around 12 to 15% annually, as more people plant mini-orchards. While that’s not exactly an overnight transformation of each patch of yard in cities into orchards, it’s a big step towards not only delicious and local food, but also neighborliness, as people have more extra fruit to share.

Who is going to eat all of this fruit? Fruit trees, like zucchini plants, can make a lot of food.

silver-lake-fruit-map.jpg

Several small groups have sprung up, mostly in California, which make community maps of publicly accessible fruit trees. These maps enable people to go harvest some fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste. The first to articulate these ideas and provide maps (including the above map) is a group called Fallen Fruit, a Los Angeles-based “activist art project.” They encourage “everyone to harvest, plant and sample public fruit, which is what we call all fruit on or overhanging public spaces such as sidewalks, streets, or parking lots.” Their guidelines on the maps for harvesting public fruit are to “take only what you need; say ‘hi’ to strangers; share your food; take a friend; go by foot.”

Jamie Juantara has also made an excellent map of Echo Park, complete with a color-coded key to identify the various types of tress.

echo-park-fruit-map.jpg

Local Ecologist and Walking Berkeley have also discussed public fruit trees here, here and here.

Languishing fruit trees are also being put to good use by Village Harvest, a nonprofit suburban harvesting cooperative based in the Santa Clara Valley. They schedule regular harvesting of fruit trees in the Santa Clara Area, helping homeowners with too much fruit on their hands channel that extra fruit to local anti-hunger organizations. Village Harvest also provides education on fruit tree care, harvesting, and food preservation.

The Benefit of Local Beer

Troegs beer
People often think of eating locally as the ritualistic rounds between the food co-op, the farmer’s market and the weekly CSA pickup, getting local produce, milk and meat. That pastoral vision is delicious, and an important part of eating locally and understanding how your food systems work.

Picking a local draft when you’re out at a bar is also a great way to support the ideas of local food, and a whole lot easier. There are a ton of local breweries in the New York region, including three within New York City itself.

local beer map

Google map of NYC-local breweries

Some of these breweries are tiny, and you’d be lucky to find them futher than 50 miles away. Some, like Magic Hat and Dogfish Head, have national distribution. The re-emergence of local and craft beer in the U.S. spead out from the West Coast in the 80’s, as people tired of the generic and flavorless Amheuseur Busch and MillerSAB offerings. This map is by no means an exhausive list, so drop me a line in the comments if you have other local breweries for me to add.

Other great local beer resources are:

Beertown, which has a craft brewery locater function

The Beer Mapping Project, which has U.S. and international brewery maps and a series of U.S. city maps which the locations of beer bars, breweries, brew pubs, beer stores, and homebrew stores marked on a Google maps base.

There are several reasons to get a pint of a local beer at your favorite bar, or pick up a six-pack on the way home:

1. Local and craft breweries experiment much more with different and unusual styles of beer, and often have special seasonal offerings. Many of these styles aren’t made by the brewing giants. Your beer will be more interesting.

2. Most craft breweries are small to medium-sized businesses. I always feel better about supporting a local business with local employees and a connection to the community over a faceless corporation. Also money spent on small and local businesses is much more likely to circulate in the community.

3. Local beer is more likely to be fresh, and not stored or transported in inappropriate conditions.

4. You’re more likely to find beers from craft and local breweries at your local bar or grocery store than a national or regional chain that relies on large-scale distributors for their supply chain. Also, the bartenders at a bar that carries local and craft beers are more likely to have a love for beer, have interesting beers on tap, and be great resources of beer knowledge.

5. The transportation costs of shipping beer mean that it’s environmetally better to drink local beer. Beer is heavy, and it’s mostly water. If it’s bottled, those bottles add significant weight. Also, bottle packaging is not as efficient as kegs in transporting large volumes of beer, cost a lot of energy to recycle, and aren’t often reused. Drinking local draft beer or buying a growler takes up less environmetal resources for transportation and packaging than local bottled beer, let alone far away bottled beer.

Chris O’Brien talks in much more depth about the economics and environmental impact of beer in his book, Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World.

Cheers!

An Oceanic Addendum

On the heels of yesterday’s post about how to measure human impact on the oceans comes a New York Times follow-up article on exactly that subject. After mentioning the Science mapping effort, the author goes on to discuss the declining alkalinity of the oceans, and efforts by teams of scientists to map the number of invasive species worldwide, and to complete a Census of Marine Life, which I will address in a later post.

This study, funded by The Nature Conservancy, represent the first international survey of the number of invasive marine species. Classified by eco-region, the paper analyzed the threat posed by invasive marine species according to their ecological impact, geographical extent, invasive potential, and management difficulty. This paper provides both an extendable framework with which to analyze the ecological impact of invasive species, and the knowledge of their means of introduction necessary to prevent their spread.

Map of Invasive Species
Map of Invasive Species. You can download the full text of the article here.

The numbers are striking: 84% of the world’s 232 marine eco-regions have documented invasive species. 57% of the invasive species are harmful to their new ecosystems, including 84% of plants. The average harmfulness invasive species fell in between “disrupts single species with little or wider ecosystem impact” and “disrupts multiple species, some wider ecosystem function.”

Harmfulness of invasive species

The most heavily impacted areas were around shipping ports, including the North Sea, Northern California, the Hawaiian Islands, and the eastern Mediterranean. This is particularly significant as shipping introduced the greatest number of alien species, 69% of the 329 invasive species analyzed, compared to 41% introduced by aquaculture and 17% by canal construction. However, of those species introduced by aquaculture, 64% were harmful, compared to 57% of species introduced by shipping.

means of transport and harmfulness

This study, in both quantifying the number and harmfulness of invasive marine species, also points towards the potentially most effective means to limit their spread. For example, of the 205 species introduced by shipping where more specific information is known, 39% were introduced by ship fouling, i.e. on the sides or hulls of ships, while 31% were transported in the ballast water taken up in the departure port and discharged at the arrival port. 31% of shipping-introduced species were transported either by ship fouling or by ballast water.

This strongly suggests that while global measures to manage the discharge of ballast water will have a significant effect, a means of preventing the introduction of invasive species by ship fouling is also necessary to slow the introduction of alien marine species via sea transport. Furthermore, the harmfulness of species introduced by aquaculture must not be overlooked, especially considering the high concentration of aquaculture ventures in specific eco-regions, for example oyster farming off of the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Jennifer L Molnar, Rebecca L Gamboa, Carmen Revenga, Mark D Spalding. 2008. Assessing the global threat of invasive species to marine biodiversity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 6, doi:10.1890/070064.

How to measure the ocean

Humans have always looked to the ocean. Immensely vast, covering 71% of the earth’s surface, is has always been an important source of food and wealth, as well as sea transportation and trade routes. Access to the ocean has historically been a decisive strategic factor for countries and empires. It still remains poorly understood, and new and bizarre species of fish still being discovered (or rediscovered in the case of the coelacanth), and the bottom has barely been mapped. It’s volume is a staggering 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, which undoubtedly contain many more unknown animals.

However, as we’re learning to measure the ocean, we’re learning how dangerously unbalanced it has become as a result of human activity, both directly and indirectly.

A recent article in The Economist describes how the sea is becoming increasingly acidic. The oceans, like forests, function as what is known as “carbon sinks”, absorbing the ever-increasing amount of carbon emitted by humans. This reduction of carbon in the atmosphere is incredibly important, and is often relied-upon in calculating the amount of CO2 that humans can emit, and is factored in when calculating the reductions in emissions necessary to mitigate global warming. However, as the article lays out, when CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, it forms carbonic acid. As more and more carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, more carbonic acid is produced, slowly tilting the oceans pH from alkaline towards acid. This trend is a potentially major disruption to marine life.

“[C]alculations suggest that if today’s trends continue, the alkalinity of the ocean will have fallen by half a pH unit by 2100. That would make some places, such as the Southern Ocean, uninhabitable for corals. Since corals provide habitat and food sources for many other denizens of the deep, this could have a profound effect on the marine food web. ” The research of Dr. Hoffman, a marine biologist at UC Santa Barbara, implies that the combination of heat and a decline in alkalinity is more deadly to marine life than either alone.

This is particularly worrying news, as many oceanic ecosystems, particularly those relied on by humans for food, are already in collapse. There have been many newspaper articles and troubling reports over the years that many fisheries are severely depleted. However, the vastness of the ocean makes the scope of the problem that represents is difficult to understand.

This map, from a recent Scientific American article, makes the profound effect of human activity on the oceans very clear.

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(The Torres Straight is the channel between Australia and Papua New Guinea.)

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