Consequences of Climate Change: Ocean Acidification

Besides the temperature getting hotter, there are many other negative consequences of increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  One of them is ocean acidification, where carbon dioxide actually dissolves in the seawater and makes it more acidic.

How does this work?

CO2 (carbon dioxide) reacts with H2O (water) to create carbonic acid, H2CO3.  With increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the air, this reaction happens more and generates more acid that makes the seawater more acidic.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), acidity of the ocean has risen 30% since the Industrial Revolution (0.1 unit decrease in pH – a decrease in pH means an increase in acidity), which is definitely significant.

Why is this a problem?

Most marine organisms are very sensitive to temperature changes and changes in pH, since naturally the ocean’s temperature and pH stay relatively constant.  Therefore, drastic changes in pH can make certain environments unsuitable for the animals that live in them.

File:Coral Reef in the Red Sea.JPG

Found at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coral_Reef_in_the_Red_Sea.JPG

But, the biggest problem has been for animals like coral, those that build skeletons made of calcium carbonate.  These animals also include shelled animals like oysters and clams.  Carbonic acid actually reacts with the calcium carbonate to create two aqueous solutions – meaning that the acid dissolves these skeletons.  In the case of coral, it can actually break down these coral reefs that provide a habitat to many of the species in the oceans.  This has implications for humans in an economic sense (it would severely hurt the fishing industry) but also for the stability of ecosystems around the world.

Works Cited

http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/04/ocean-acidification/kolbert-text

http://oceanacidification.net/

http://www.whoi.edu/main/topic/ocean-acidification

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