Tuesday, July 29, 2008

And the meek (or microscopic) shall inherit the earth

Discussions of climate change often focus on the big events that can catch the attention of the public - hurricanes, fires and flooding, vast sea melts, etc. But what can be most alarming are the subtle, microscopic changes that can have enormous consequences.

I was reading the latest Marine Science Review available from Seaweb.org (No. 267 - Pathogens, disease, and die-offs). It covers everything from epizootic shell disease in lobsters to wasting disease in burrowing starfish, and much more. Many of these events are isolated or cyclical outbreaks, but increases in water temperature is becoming more and more of a potential factor.

Increases in water temperature - even very small changes - can produce two negative effects: an increase in bacteria and viral microorganisms, and a weakening of the immune system of many aquatic life forms. Will Nature adjust to these changes? Most likely, but at what cost to various species?

To borrow the Biblical phrase, the meek shall inherit the earth. But it may not be the banner-waving, peacenik; it may be something smaller than the head of a pin - meek but deadly. Another important aspect of climate change that has to be considered.

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