STATEWIDE – According to climate researchers, the water in the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than almost any other area in the world.
“There are many, many changes we’re tracking here, trying to understand, so that we can facilitate conservation and pool our resources,” said Dr. Susan Shaw, the founder and director of the Shaw Institute.
Researchers we spoke with said the ocean has gone through warming periods before, but this time it’s different.
“One way to understand how sensitive the planet is, or to understand how quickly it can change, or what it’s capable of, we can see what’s been done before,” said Katherine Allen, a researcher and assistant professor at the University of Maine.
Allen studies the ocean’s history by analyzing dirt and mud from the ocean floor.
“My main tool for that is to look at fossils that build up in sediments overtime. Then, I analyze those fossils to learn what the ocean used to be like,” Allen explained.
By understanding how climate change has historically impacted the Gulf of Maine, researchers can build climate models to better predict what might happen next.
“We know it’s taken up a lot of heat in recent decades, from direct observations,” Allen said. “It’s also taking up a lot of C02. The ocean is doing us a big favor.”
Allen said while it’s important to understand the ocean’s history, it’s also important to study the modern ocean.
Dr. Shaw and her team do that by checking water chemistry for things such as acidity, conductivity and turbidity.
Shaw said they found up to 17 pieces of micro-plastics in every liter of water off the coast of Maine.
“Plastic pollution has become a crisis,” Shaw said. “Not only in the U.S., but all over the world. Plastics are pervading our biosphere and they’re also getting into our bodies.”
She says it’s killing ecosystems and being eaten by marine life.
If, like most Mainers, you enjoy eating seafood, this could be bad news.
“One group of scientists in India has shown, when you put blood cells in a petri tray, and you put little plastic particles into it, what happens with the blood, is the plastic causes DNA, chromosome breaks, which is the very beginning stage of cancer,” Shaw said.
“Reduce-reuse-recycle” is a popular tagline when it comes to plastic products, but Shaw says it’s not the answer.
“When you recycle plastic, you create a more toxic substance than plastic, because you concentrate the chemicals sitting in the plastic,” Shaw added.
Not only are plastics bad for human and marine health, Shaw said the fossil fuels used to create plastic products contribute to the earth’s warming.
“We need to understand these things,” Shaw concluded. “These are problems we need to address and we will. I have great hope that we’re going to solve some of these problems in my lifetime and I certainly have, in my mind, a bright future for young people today.”
So if recycling isn’t necessarily the answer, what is?
Some researchers featured in this series suggest electing and supporting representatives concerned with climate change and switching to compostable materials.