Crumbling Foundations

Crumbling Foundations
For the last few months I’ve been one of the lab instructors for an introductory oceanography course at Oregon State. Despite it all being done through Zoom, I really enjoyed the opportunity to review and learn oceanography with students, and the challenge of adapting lab activities to remote instruction. One of the labs focuses on the concept of ocean acidification. While I’ve heard talks and read articles about the concept before, I hadn’t realized an important fact: it’s not the acidification that matters per se, but rather, it’s the fact that when CO2 dissolves in ocean water, along with lowering the water’s pH, the CO2 molecules interfere with ocean carbonate chemistry. Marine organisms use carbonate ions to build their shells. Extra CO2 molecules react with carbonate to form bicarbonate, reducing the amount of carbonate ion building blocks available for organisms to use.

Going Further
There is an enormous amount of well-put-together material available on ocean acidification, and I encourage you to do some exploration on your own. Some of the articles I found really valuable are listed below.

Oregon State University researchers have been examining the effect of acidification on oysters in the Pacific Northwest. I used an image created by Dr. George Waldbusser that I found in this article for a reference for Panel 11 in the comic.

Article from the Smithsonian Institute’s Ocean: Find Your Blue project:

Overview of the effects of ocean acidification from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory:


I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Arctic climate change over the last four years. Much of that has been specific to my graduate school research on the atmospheric boundary layer in the Arctic and thus fairly technical, but recently I started reading two books that compile perspectives from North American Arctic communities: SIKU: Knowing Our Ice and The Earth is Faster Now. These books provide a lot of context that I think is missing in mainstream climate coverage. Elders and hunters in the far north have noticed changes in weather, animals, ice, and plants, and the particularities show a strong regional character. My hope is to eventually bring some of that to light through comics. Many books have been and continue to be written about this; I don’t aspire to make a complete portrayal of Arctic climate change, but I hope to be able to highlight perspectives that have gone unseen, as well as make some of the science clearer.

Sea ice graph from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

I drew this on 11×14 illustration board using Micron, Pentel Pocket Brush, and a Pilot 62. I prepared the digital version using Pixelmator Pro.

“Climate Changed” by Philippe Squarzoni


I love graphic novels. That being said, I read a lot of graphic novels that end up being disappointing. The format has a lot of potential for transformative storytelling (see Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” for more on that topic), but often depth of exposition is sacrificed in favor of clear imagery and ease of reading. And it makes sense – creating a page of comics can take a lot longer than a page of prose, unless the art style is particularly sparse or sloppy. When the topic is a scientific one, as with other public-aimed science writing, it is tempting for authors to simplify a topic beyond the truth. Philippe Squarzoni’s 2014 effort yields to neither temptation.

The book consists of over 450 pages of beautiful, sparse black-and-white artwork in a documentary style. Serene nature imagery paired with the author’s internal conflict about how to personally respond to the growing climate imagery sets the scene. Interviews often are a series of talking heads, like watching an interview in a television documentary, and expositions of scientific or economic considerations are paired to great effect with classic advertisements (rendered in pen and ink). For example, after a discussion of the consequences of rampant consumerism, we see an 80’s Isuzu ad paired with the text:


“Climate change is also a symptom of a breakdown of solidarity, a sign of collective selfishness. Ironic hedonists, trained by free downloads. Reckless and thoughtless consumerism. The rise in global warming reflects the rise of our desires, and of our indifference to the threat the world is facing. The rise of insignificance. And because we are innocent and heartless, because we think the climate crisis is only out there someplace else, but because it is inside us, we don’t notice a thing.”

The book is long, and, like the scientific consensus on global warming, the story is a depressing one. It is hard to see a way that our society can so fundamentally change from our profit-driven and ecologically careless approach. Because of the length of the book, and perhaps because it can sometimes be a bit repetitive, it does take some effort to finish the book. But the effort is worth it.

You can see a sampler of the contents of the book on Issuu, courtesy the publisher.