Slouching Towards Completion

I slouch like the rough beast in the Second Coming towards completion of my Climate Change story. I keep thinking I’m making progress as I once again look at revised drafts of my various parts of the saga. I have revised the first two novellas trying to incorporate valid and valuable suggestions from reviewers and most recently beta readers that suggested I needed more drama and more easily identifiable villains.

I’ve been happy with the storyline for both The Souring Seas and An Industrial Solution for some time, and chapters of both have received numerous reviews. I think they are technically fairly solid. My recent revisions to add drama and have each of these novellas reach a more distinct climax has made them longer, so both are more like small novels of 50,000 to 60,000 words. I think they are close to done.

Future Imperfect, my third novella along The Road to Environmental Armageddon, and the bigger novel, Environmental Armageddon, need more work.

Here’s a potential cover, a title page with precis for The Souring Seas, and the latest draft of the first chapter. The cover photo was provided by my friend and colleague, Judi Risser. She creates some great photos that you can see on her website – https://thruanewlens.wordpress.com/.

Comments are always welcome, because I’m always editing and revising. Nothing I do is ever finished.

The Souring Seas

Alan Kemister

Oceanographers in Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University observe enhanced growth of marine plankton when they increase aquarium acidity to a critical level. Tony Atherton studies the potential impact of their observations on climate change. He learns removal of planktonic biomass to the sediments could reverse global warming. His enthusiasm wanes when he realizes other aspects of climate change will destroy global ecological balances before his natural cure kicks in.

Beth Manville, an actress with an interest in environmental issues, steals Tony’s heart. She joins his fight to convince people to treat ocean acidification seriously. Her enthusiasm waxes as Tony’s wanes until his eureka moment when he realizes the geopolitical importance of the interaction between global warming, CO2 emissions, and climate cooling ocean acidification.

Chapter One

Monday, May 2, 2022

Tony Atherton’s mobile chirped as he stepped from the shower. He ran naked and dripping to answer the device charging on rickety shelves beneath his studio apartment’s largest window.

A young blonde with long hair and the posture of a runway model stared from a window in the next building. Her shimmering iridescent blue gown suggested she’d just returned from an all-night party. He hesitated, transfixed by her smiling eyes only four metres away.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he exclaimed several heartbeats later as he grabbed his phone and slithered to the floor.

He tapped the incoming call button. “Heyo.”

“Good morning, Anthony. Jacinta Lopez Martinez speaking.”

“Morning, Jacinta,” he replied.

“I hope I have interrupted nothing important.”

Tony glanced at his bedside clock. 8:05. He was hiding from his neighbour when he should have been enjoying a relaxing end-of-term break. Hilarious perhaps, but unimportant, and nothing he’d discuss with Jacinta.

He took a deep breath, trying to imagine the laboratory disaster that precipitated the early morning call. She wouldn’t have called if it didn’t involve his system for controlling chemical concentrations in Dalhousie university’s largest aquarium. “Something’s wrong with the aquarium, eh?”

“The matter is the pH control system has failed, and I need your help.”

“Can’t Herr Professor solve it?” Tony asked as he metaphorically patted himself on the back for correctly assessing the situation.

“Professor Krueger is at a conference. Only Rosalind and I are here to manage the aquarium, and we are uncertain. I would not have called if it was not important.”

Rosalind Parker, Rosie to everyone but Jacinta, was an undergraduate working for the summer in their research lab. Neither would resolve mechanical problems without help.

Tony struggled to concentrate on the call rather than the blonde he imagined laughing at his expense. “Explain what happened, and, you know, I may suggest something.”

“There appear to be two problems. First, all pH sensors failed. Many algae have grown over the weekend, and they are inhibiting the sensors. Second, all the carbonic acid has discharged into the aquarium.”

“Experiment’s ruined. Why not abandon it and start again?”

“We should not stop until we understand the rapid algal growth.”

A picture of slimy goo overwhelming the experimental setup he designed and built as his Master of Engineering research project displaced images of the blond temptress. Dissecting the computer records and determining the exact conditions when the system failed were the obvious next steps, but something else was equally important. “Give me forty-five minutes.”

Tony refused to creep like a cowardly dog in his apartment. He stood, hoping a bevy of female roommates with cellphone cameras hadn’t joined his neighbour.

The window opposite was empty. Vaguely disappointed, he rushed through his morning routine before dashing to the university.

A brisk fifteen-minute walk through chilly South End Halifax streets took Tony to the university campus. In the Life Sciences Building, he diverted into the oceanography department annex. The humid concrete cavern housed the ten-metre diameter aquarium where Jacinta, a candidate for a PhD in Oceanography, was studying the effect of a more acidic ocean on phytoplankton. The plastic-lined concrete pool was two metres deep, and a rotating arm with two giant paddles provided mixing. A thick scum and the smell of decomposing vegetation assaulted his senses. The huge tank’s constant mechanical stirring caused Jacinta’s algal mass to roil like the witch’s cauldron in Macbeth but didn’t disperse it.

He strode from the aquarium to the laboratory he shared with Dr. K’s other students.

Jacinta emerged from her office with the grace of a flamenco dancer. She looked the part with her abundant curly dark-brown hair, brown eyes, olive complexion, and delicate facial features. Add castanets and a colourful flowing skirt, and she’d be ready for the stage.

“Hello, Anthony. I apologize for taking you away from vacation,” Jacinta said in her formal, charmingly accented English as she swept up to him. “Rosalind thinks you will not have breakfasted, so we have coffee and muffins.” She paused with head cocked. “Have you regarded the pool?”

Tony scanned the room, searching for the promised treats. “Strolled by as I came in. Sickly yellow colour of a cheap curry.”

“I also observed the unusual colour. Rosalind has taken samples to the nutrient laboratory and asked Senorita Stewart to hasten the analyses. She promised us results by Thursday.”

“Average pH is now 7.26, so up a few hundredths,” Rosie said as she skipped into the lab. The robust country girl towered over Jacinta. She always wore cowboy boots, jeans, and plaid shirts. Her appearance and demeanor were as rosy as her name implied. She paused, smiling mischievously. “Cynthia’s after your bod. She’d analyze the nuts faster if you asked.”

“Rosalind, you should not say such things, and calling the nutrient samples nuts is undignified.” Jacinta turned toward Tony. “We need the nutrient results, so, Anthony…”

He stood straighter. The effervescent undergraduate’s lighthearted, mildly sexual banter boosted his ego, something he needed after his neighbour appeared unimpressed by his early morning performance. “I’ll talk to Cynthia. If they’re so important, you should, you know, collect extras.”

“The intensity interests me,” Jacinta said as she watched Rosie gather bottles for the additional samples. “The textbooks say we cannot generate a bloom without a pulse of nutrients, but I cannot imagine a reason for high concentrations. How do we explain such growth?”

“No idea, but I do know something.” Tony paused while biting his bottom lip. “We need electrodes that don’t fail.”

Something had ruined several months’ work, but Jacinta was treating the disruption of her plan to wrap up her laboratory work with equanimity. She had a similar reaction when a coronavirus pandemic disrupted everything for over a year. When he’d questioned her about that shutdown, she smiled and said, “God challenges us to do our best. We must accept these setbacks and try harder to complete the tasks He sets for us.”

Her reliance on guidance provided by her Catholic faith was annoying, but he accepted Jacinta’s need for divine motivation. Tony’s generosity, however, didn’t extend to fundamentalist Christians who claimed global warming reflected God’s will. They, and dozens of others, wouldn’t accept the reality of climate change. Add individuals, corporations, and governments who recognized the problems but refused to alter their behaviour, and academics who studied climate change but left action to others. The resulting progress-defying inertia stifled interest in humanity’s greatest environmental challenge.

Fortunately, Jacinta had her mind on the immediate problem and didn’t elaborate on her Christian motivation. “That gives us two reasons to continue the experiment. Can we keep the pH stable between 7.2 and 7.3?”

“I can recharge the acid tanks and set the pH to whatever value you choose.”

“Will the fouling not recur?”

He nodded. “We can clean the electrodes every few hours while I devise a solution.”

Jacinta turned after taking two steps toward her office. “I must identify the organisms responsible for the bloom. Rosalind and I shall collect water samples for biomass and species identification. Then she can help with the electrodes. If she takes over electrode maintenance, you can resume your vacation.”

After the promised coffee and muffins in the graduate students’ common room, Tony instructed Rosie on electrode maintenance. He left her to determine how long they’d function between cleanings. In the lab, he cleared a section of bench and focused on the fouling question.

Rapid water flow, he hypothesized, should inhibit adhesion to the electrodes. The simplest solution—force water past the membranes with motorized impellers.

As Tony sketched impeller housings, he imagined plankton growing in shallow coastal waters during the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods. Had lower oceanic pH generated massive plankton blooms like the one in Jacinta’s experiment? Had they produced the biomass that generated the world’s oil and gas deposits? Did her results suggest human-induced climate change was pushing the natural world into another period of exceptional primary productivity? Would it generate massive accumulations of organic carbon in new oil and gas deposits? Would it slash atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and reduce global temperatures? Could it lead to a new ice age?

Tough questions, but one thing was clear. Jacinta’s experiment presaged results that would impact their understanding of ocean acidification. She’d estimated a tenfold increase in growth rate, and several characteristics of the bloom made no sense. Would low pH become a critical factor in the global ecological response to climate change? Could it disrupt the way industrial societies functioned?

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