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Dolphins Not Pleased With New Superpowers

Evidently, the future will involve a lot of confused dolphins and whales:


That graphic's from a new study out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which found that by 2050, as the oceans get increasingly acidic by absorbing more and more carbon-dioxide from the air, sound will start travelling much farther underwater—up to 70 percent farther in some areas. That's not good news for whales or dolphins or anyone else who uses sonar to communicate, find food, mate, survive... (As Julia Whitty puts it, imagine everything getting much, much, much brighter and see how we'd like it.) As it was, whales were already getting thrown for a deuce by Navy ships using sonar to hunt for submarines.

That's pretty unexpected. Although, not to toss aside the dolphins or anything, but a much bigger issue is the related fact that acidifying oceans are increasingly less able to act as carbon sinks. (The other big carbon sinks—the world's forests—aren't holding up too well, either.) Researchers announced last week that carbon emission were increasing at a level far beyond even the most dire projections of the IPCC—putting us on pace for about 6 degrees C of warming by the end of the century, which would put us pretty squarely in apocalyptic territory. Part of the equation here is that oceans are absorbing markedly less carbon than they used to. Bewildered dolphins aren't even the half of it.

--Bradford Plumer