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On a calm, clear afternoon in December 1985, the Arco Anchorage made a routine stop in Port Angeles, Washington. The crew was killing time, waiting their turn to drop off 814,000 barrels of Alaskan crude oil at the Cherry Point Refinery, 22 miles north of Bellingham. Somehow, despite perfect conditions, the Anchorage ran aground. Rocks on the ocean bottom tore two long slits through ship’s hull; the oil began to leak immediately. Over the next few hours, 239,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Port Angeles harbor.
The crew notified the U.S. Coast Guard immediately, and within five hours, a contracted spill-response team had stopped the oil from gushing out. They soon realized, however, that the equipment and manpower they had on the scene wouldn’t be enough to contain the spilled oil. They called for more help, but they had already lost precious time.
Cleanup would ultimately continue for more than three months and cost $13 million. Finally, having recovered only about half the spilled oil, response teams called it quits. It wasn’t even one of the top five biggest oil spills in Washington state’s history.
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It’s been called global warming’s evil twin. Scientists have pegged it as the culprit behind low shellfish harvests, and some researchers warn that it will kill off some of the main players at the base of the marine food web.
Commonly called ocean acidification, the phenomenon occurs when carbon dioxide infiltrates the sea, changing the water chemistry and thus lowering the pH. And while we usually think of it in the context of a global affliction — it is driven by the same rise of CO2 in the atmosphere that also drives climate change — a report released Monday points out that it is also a local problem, with uniquely local solutions.
In short: If we’re worried about Puget Sound’s acidifying waters, we should clean up the wastewater that we’re pouring into it.