What do sea stars, sea cucumbers and sea urchins have to do with global warming? Quite a bit, says Justin McAlister, assistant professor of biology, when you consider that these creatures’ homes — the earth’s oceans — cover more than two-thirds of the planet’s surface.
Climate change and its impact on these organisms will be on the minds of experts and students from more than 10 countries around the globe when they gather at Holy Cross this week for the Eighth North American Echinoderm Conference, scheduled for July 9-13.
“When we talk about global warming, what we’re really talking about is ocean warming, because the oceans are absorbing the majority of the heat being produced by climate change,” said McAlister, who teaches marine biology and oceanography at the College.
The topic of ocean acidification — the sea becoming more acidic, in this case due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that then dissolves into the ocean — will also be addressed, he said. “When the oceans are more acidic, all the shellfish we like to eat have a harder time producing shells,” he added.
The conference’s itinerary will honor John and Vicki Pearse of the University of California, Santa Cruz, for their longstanding contributions to marine science. It also includes a plenary talk on the history of echinoderm research from David and Doris Pawson of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and a visit to Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.
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