Sunday, 30 October 2016

Specialist #2: My Teeth Are Sore (Ocean Acidification)

Bluey here,

I'm pleased that’s over, dentist days aren’t my favourite.

My teeth (sometimes called marine calcifiers or coral reefs) have been suspiciously sore for days. Having indicated the pain could be due to ‘Ocean Acidification’ (OA), Dr Steffen referred me to Dentist Albright, who is the supposed expert. I'm particularly worried about the long-term future of my 'Great Barrier Teeth' (GBT).

First scan of my two front teeth: 'The Great Barrier Teeth' (Source: NASA)

Dentist Albright inserted her dental explorer and dental mirror into my mouth the moment I lay down. As she poked and prodded, she talked to me; I listened. Yes, it was 'highly likely' that my teeth were suffering from OA, but she’d have to conduct some advanced 'seawater chemistry' tests, just to be sure. It was generally accepted within the medical and dental community, that OA was the ‘evil twin of climate change’ and having already been diagnosed with anthropogenic climate change, a diagnosis of OA was likely.

On the completion of the examination, in order to provide me with some OA background and give her some time to process my results, Dentist Albright introduced me to her assistant, Nurse Hönisch.

The nurse pulled out my dental records. Unfortunately, they only went back 300 million years, due to a problem with proxy information (due to a lack of 'pelagic calcifiers'). Before we looked at my records though, she helpfully explained two important ocean-chemistry facts:

1) Acidity
  • Atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by my bodily fluid (oceans), including by my saliva (surface-ocean water), which causes chemical reactions that reduce my pH levels 
  • Increasing acidity occurs when pH decreases.
2) Saturation State of Calcium Carbonate 
  • Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) minerals, such as aragonite, are the building blocks for my teeth
  • Increasing saliva acidity causes saturation rates in minerals like aragonite (Ωarag) to decrease, making it harder for my teeth to stay strong, therefore resilient to dissolution. 

The nurse also dropped another fact; that before humans came along, CO2 absorption was buffered on long-time scales by interplay between seawater, seafloor carbonate sediments, and weathering on land. Not really relevant anymore, if you ask me. Unless contemporary dentist, Taylor et al's enhanced weathering concept's cost can reduce several magnitudes.

My records showed that the last time I'd had my teeth checked was 11,600 years ago—when CO2 was at 265ppm. My 'planktic foraminiferal' tooth had reduced in size by 50% then, caused in part by a gradual 30% increase in CO2 concentrations over the preceding 6,000 years. 

My memory was coming back; I remembered that during my PETM, a large CO2 release caused my 'benthic foramanifer' tooth to completely disappear! The records insisted that the exact cause of this event (and others) is difficult to determine as 'environmental changes covaried' but I'm certain it was from OA. My records also reminded me about the golf ball that hit me in the jaw 65 million years ago, causing my 'planktic calcifier' to fall out, but somehow leaving my teeth corals intact.

That was about the time Dentist Albright returned to give me my results. Here they are:

Medical Report 2: Ocean Acidification

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? I'm in the green but should I really be in the green if we all know that I'm going to be in the yellow shortly...

I'm particularly worried about my GBT. So is Dentist Albright who says she has proven that net community calcification is depressed compared with values expected for pre-industrial conditions, indicating OA may already be affecting my GBT replenishment.

A visiting dentist, Dentist De'ath (quite an appropriate name really) agreed, citing increased temperature as another contributing factor alongside decreased saturation rates of aragonite in my saliva. He also mentioned something about coral bleaching. I didn't know if that was good, like a cleaning product or something but by the tone of his voice it sounded bad. I didn't ask, as I'd had enough bad news for one day.

Looks like climate change really is OA's evil twin; maybe even worse. My teeth have always been a real source of pride, especially as they can be seen all the way from space.

Yours for awhile,

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