Chapter Twenty

The Souring Seas

Chapter Twenty


Thursday, December 21, 2021


Three months after Jacinta defended her PhD thesis, Tony passed his comprehensive knowledge exams. Marc Lavoie also passed the exams that were a prerequisite for formal submission of a PhD project proposal. Tim Wilkes dragged them to the Muse for a celebratory beer on that wintery December afternoon.

He raised his glass after filling three from the pitcher they usually ordered. “To the successful candidates whose project proposals are undoubtedly ready for submission.”

Tony set down his glass. “Proposal’s ready to go. It includes productivity measurements that augment Rosie’s work and the efforts I made subsequently. It identifies a need for better measurements for settling because my initial ones won’t work and goes into the modelling I’ll do. The big problem is predation.”

“You’ve known predation was an issue since Jacinta left Rosie in charge of the experiment that went so spectacularly wrong.”

“What about Rosie?” Marc interjected. “Anyone heard from her?”

“E-mails,” Tony replied. “She’s living on their farm and studying at Acadia.”

“And your solution to the predation problem?” Tim asked.

“I’ve studied the literature and can generate extrapolations based on the present-day ocean., but I have no solution for a low pH environment.”

Tim turned to Marc. “Where do you stand?”

“Less well advanced than Tony because I didn’t have many relevant results. But it’s on track and may even help to answer Tony’s predation question. I want to study the effect of low pH on natural assemblages. I’ll undoubtedly see predation so if Tony can estimate vertical transport…”

Tim topped up their glasses. “Good luck guys, and here’s to your ongoing collaboration.” He took a large swig. “Once I finish this glass, I’m back to my thesis. The rest of the pitcher’s yours.”


The new year brought Beth no opportunities in film or television. Tight government funding implemented during a global economic crisis a decade earlier continued. She focused on Michael and the ClimateChange&U website.

The Canadian version of the website was gaining general readership and adherents who submitted information on their carbon reduction efforts. Its rapidly approaching first anniversary provided a perfect opportunity for new ideas.

Scientific reports, science opinion, graphs, and statistics dominated the site. It needed opinion pieces and interviews with sympathetic public figures in academia, entertainment, and sports.

Beth had contacts in the Halifax arts community and exuded confidence in front of a camera. With her sense of drama and extensive understanding of environmental material, she could become a more dynamic interviewer than Becky Smith, the woman who’d interviewed Tony a year earlier. And Beth would bring sex appeal to the site. What more could they ask for?

Beth was less than enthusiastic when Tony described his brilliant idea.

“I’m no journalist, and I have no experience conducting interviews. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“But you’ve done interviews. You twisted the questions until you were basically posing your own. Take that one step further, and you’d be the interviewer.”

She shook her head and stared at the Duplo monstrosity Michael was creating. “We’ve both done interviews, but the transition can’t be as easy as you suggest.”

Tony wouldn’t abandon his bright idea. “Please, try it. Talk to someone you’re comfortable with. It doesn’t matter if it’s a low-profile person provided they’re pro-environment. Discuss what they’re doing to fight climate change and record the conversation.”

Beth looked up, smiling. “Okay, I have the perfect person. I’ll need a camera operator and a set. Your problem?”

Details, details, they’d sort them out. He needed buy-in, and he had it.


The ClimateChange&U website was a backdrop for Tony’s primary concern. He needed to collate the existing data and plan new experiments that would support models of the impact of increasing acidity on oceanic productivity. He had lectures to attend and the website to look after, but his family and his thesis project were his focus.

Marc Lavoie watched Tony sketch a flowchart for his proposed model of phytoplankton growth and sequestering in a low pH environment on the whiteboard behind a desk in their lab. “You’re focusing on a biogeochemical model that extrapolates planktonic carbon burial in the present-day ocean to that of a future low pH one?”

“At the moment, I’m only scoping out model parameters requiring experimental data.”

“Productivity rates for various species,” Marc suggested.

“I already have data for many species.”

“But you also need growth rates of natural assemblages.”

Tony made a notation on the whiteboard. “I hope to develop factors I can apply to the single species data.”

“You’ll also need pictures of the distributions in time and space.”

Tony sighed. “I’ll rely on the best distributions guys working on those problems can provide.”

“What else?”

Tony pointed at a flow chart box. “Settling rates for the plankton, and we have numbers for most of our species.”

Marc tapped another of Tony’s flow chart boxes. “But few for sediment decomposition rates.”

“That’s an issue. They may be different in high and low pH environments.”

“Probably very different. The carbon-to-nitrogen ratios of your low pH plankton are distinctly different. That should alter decomposition rates.”

Tony circled the sediment decomposition box. “That’s where I must focus my experimental work.”

“But how will you measure them?”

“Don’t know. I’ll give myself a year to solve it. If nothing works, I’ll generate a workaround.”

Marc paused in the doorway to his office. “Typical modeller. If you can’t generate real data, fake it!” He laughed as he pulled the door closed behind him.

Tony laughed a hollow laugh. Decomposition rates were a serious concern, as was understanding the effect of predation, the problem Tim Wilkes identified months earlier. He had much to do.


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