Rising Ocean Acidification Threatens Marine Life
The current amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 399.89 parts per million according to C02Now.org.
According to scientists, this figure is higher than has ever naturally occurred on earth in the last 650,000 years. This is known because of ice core samples that can be read much like tree rings from Antarctica.
Oceans have played a vital role in helping to alleviate the amount of carbon dioxide levels in the air by simply absorbing it. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of carbon dioxide released by our emissions dissolves into the worlds oceans, rivers, and lakes. The extra absorption causes a chemical reaction with water to form carbonic acid which is an increasing issue for marine life and overall health of our oceans.
The main consequences of increasingly higher levels of carbonic acids in the oceans include coral bleaching, depressing metabolic rates in squid, and lowering immune systems of blue mussels. (Source Wikipedia:Ocean Acidification)
Ocean waters are a natural alkaline, and can absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide without much change in acidic levels. However, now with polluting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide emissions at an all time high, the oceans are finally becoming acidic. The full effects are not known, but scientists are determining that gilled marine life such as fish, squid, and others, may find it harder to “breathe” due to on-going ocean acidification.
Acidification can harm animals from corals to crabs, impairing them from using calcium to make shells and skeletons. It also hurts microscopic life. Many species of phytoplankton and zoo plankton, which form the basis of the marine food web, are very vulnerable to acidification.
A team of researchers studied coral reefs down the coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico where nearby sub-marine springs naturally lower the pH of the nearby ocean water. What they found was a completely localized effect that would be similar to a widespread acidic ocean problem. With science instruments in hand, the researchers measured and collected skeletal cores of a stony coral species called Porites Astreoides. Armed with CT scans and core samples, the researchers calculated that coral calcification rates decrease drastically in a gradient seawater pH.
Research Paytan from this coral reef study says:
“There are likely to be major shifts in reef species and some loss of coral cover, but if ocean acidification is the only impact there won’t be total destruction. We need to protect corals from other stressors, such as pollution and overfishing. If we can control those, the impact of ocean acidification might not be as bad.”
The UN General Assemblies is even getting interesting in Ocean Acidification by commissioning a study to understand the effects on humans and the environment.
They predict that ocean acidity could increase by as much as 150 percent by 2050. That is a rate that is nearly 100 times faster than any change in acidity in our environment that is known by man.
And for more background on Ocean Acidification, I found the following short documentary by NRDC on YouTube:
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