Acid Test : Carbon Dioxide Emissions Absorbed by the Oceans


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Earth’s atmosphere isn’t the only victim of burning fossil fuels. About a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the earth’s oceans, where they’re having an impact that’s just starting to be understood.

the last decade, scientists have discovered that this excess CO2 is actually changing the chemistry of the sea and proving harmful for many forms of marine life. This process is known as ocean acidification.

A more acidic ocean could wipe out species, disrupt the food web and impact fishing, tourism and any other human endeavor that relies on the sea.

The change is happening fast — and it will take fast action to slow or stop it. Over the last 250 years, oceans have absorbed 530 billion tons of CO2, triggering a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity.

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The new chemical composition of our oceans is expected to harm a wide range of ocean life — particularly creatures with shells. The resulting disruption to the ocean ecosystem could have a widespread ripple effect and further deplete already struggling fisheries worldwide.

Increased acidity reduces carbonate — the mineral used to form the shells and skeletons of many shellfish and corals. The effect is similar to osteoporosis, slowing growth and making shells weaker. If pH levels drop enough, the shells will literally dissolve.

This process will not only harm some of our favorite seafood, such as lobster and mussels, but will also injure some species of smaller marine organisms — things such as pteropods and coccolithophores.

They form a vital part of the food web. If those smaller organisms are wiped out, the larger animals that feed on them could suffer, as well.

Acidity slows reef-building, which could lower the resiliency of corals and lead to their erosion and eventual extinction. The “tipping point” for coral reefs could happen as soon as 2050.

Coral reefs serve as the home for many other forms of ocean life. Their disappearance would be akin to rainforests being wiped out worldwide. Such losses would reverberate throughout the marine environment and have profound social impacts, as well — especially on the fishing and tourism industries.

The loss of coral reefs would also reduce the protection that they offer coastal communities against storms surges and hurricanes — which might become more severe with warmer air and sea surface temperatures due to global warming.

Combating acidification requires reducing CO2 emissions and improving the health of the oceans. Creating marine protected areas (essentially national parks for the sea) and stopping destructive fishing practices would increase the resiliency of marine ecosystems and help them withstand acidification.

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One response to “Acid Test : Carbon Dioxide Emissions Absorbed by the Oceans”

  1. SteleEly Avatar

    Pace of Ocean Acidification Has No Parallel in 300 Million Years, Paper Says
    A new scientific paper suggests that the ocean is acidifying at a rate that is many times faster than at any time in the last 300 million years. The change is occurring so rapidly that it raises “the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change,” said the paper, published this week in the journal Science.
    Excerpt: The new study, led by Bärbel Hönisch, a Columbia University paleoceanographer, does not present much new scientific evidence on the issue. Instead, it is a careful analysis of the existing evidence from decades of research on the earth’s geologic history.

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