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Acidic Oceans

Acidic Oceans

The climate change issue has been a major topic among politicians and civilians alike. But while we spend much of our time looking to the skies, we’ve neglected our oceans. With the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, acid levels in the oceans have been rising, which in turn could harm many marine animals including shellfish and corals.

Ocean acidification occurs when the ocean takes up extra CO2 from the atmosphere. When CO2 dissolves in water it increases the amount of hydrogen ions, when then decreased the pH levels. Since the industrial revolution, the ocean’s pH level has lowered by 0.1 [Source: Yale]. While this might not seem like a huge drop, the truth is, the pH scale is logarithmic, each step up or down increases the amount of hydrogen ions tenfold. This roughly translates to a 30% decreased in pH levels in the ocean. [Source: Ocean Acidification]. with half of the anthropogenic CO2 stored in the upper 10% of the oceans [Source: NOAA]. Increase in acidity is particularly harmful to organisms that require calcium bicarbonate to build shells. If the water is too acidic, it can dissolve the shells, sometimes faster than organisms can rebuild them. The impact of this change has been seen in the US northwest, most notably Washington, where there has been a significant decrease in oysters along the coast. Other areas that would be highly sensitive to changing pH are the continental shelves since many marine organisms either live or spawn there. In 2008 a University of Chicago report stated that these changes were happening much faster than predicted and that “This increase will have a severe impact on marine food webs and suggests that ocean acidification may be a more urgent issue than previously thought…” [Source: Science Daily]

The growing urgency to halt the change in pH has forced the EPA to step in and “consider ways the states can address rising acidity levels in oceans” [Source: Seattle P.I.] in accordance with the Clean Water Act. This was brought on by a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, who wanted the EPA to address the acidity level of Washington’s ocean. Many view this victory as another way for the federal government to put restrictions on greenhouse gases that also affect the oceans (only CO2 increases the acidity level of the oceans [Source: Treehugger]). There are, of course, organizations that argue that the increase acidity could be beneficial. While mollusks are growing thinner shells, other crustaceans (namely crab, lobster and shrimp) are forming thicker shells. This might sound beneficial, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, state that “…any possible ramifications are complex. For example, the crab exhibited improved shell-building capacity, and its prey, the clams, showed reduced calcification. ‘This may initially suggest that crabs could benefit from this shift in predator-pray dynamics. But without shells, clams may not be able to sustain their populations, and this could ultimately impact crabs in a negative way, as well…” [Source: WHOI].

It is difficult to say what exactly the long-reaching effects will have on all of the life forms in the oceans, however, it has become serious enough that the EPA, NOAA and various other organizations have begun taking action against ocean acidification.

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Pacific Science
Jasmine Greene

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88 comments

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2:29PM PST on Jan 14, 2012

CO2 is having such a widespread effect in the oceans, causing too much acidity which in turn has a negative effect on crab, shrimp, squid, oysters, some of our food supply. When the sea urchins and especially the coral reefs start to suffer more, there could be ecological disasters. So many people are only worried about their little corners of the world, and are not showing any interest in the problems surrounding them. Sad.. as we could be too late.

6:03AM PDT on Apr 3, 2010

go ahead and blame government....but create your own transformation too yeah? - who wants to help me heal the wheatbealt of w.a. for instance? swales for tree planting and microclimate transpiration. yeah! come on, let's activate ourselves! x x LOL

8:51AM PDT on Mar 23, 2010

"Because we don't think about future generations,
they will never forget us"
(Henrik Tikkanen)

8:50AM PDT on Mar 22, 2010

Les océans représentent une majeure partie de notre planète. S'ils deviennent pollués (ce qui est déjà le cas), c'est une grande partie de notre biodiversité qui disparait. Sans parler des peuples qui se nourrissent grâce aux océans (pêche).
La déforestation en est une grande cause car sans arbres, le CO2 n'est plus assimilé! Il est vraiment temps d'agir avant qu'il ne soit trop tard!!!!!!!!

3:12PM PDT on Mar 21, 2010

When you lose your home, your family, your job, and your health you realize that nothing is worth it. Material luxury is not worth it. Even... dare I say computers? Are not worth it. I think we will have to stop all of it if we realistically want change. Computers create a lot of toxic waste too. I don't think that stopping one or two things will make much of a difference now. We have to completely change ALL of it. Manufacturing, Cars, Energy, Packaging, Agriculture, Communications, etc. The Consciousness for mass change hasn't ripened yet. Sadly it seems that by the time it has ripened, it is waaay too late to make the change. You don't know what you've got til' its gone? -Thats very depressing sorry...

11:45AM PDT on Mar 20, 2010

I'm so tired off hearing what we're doing wrong! Let's do something to make it right!!

9:01PM PDT on Mar 18, 2010

It seems to me that the only good side on this is for the crabs and that case is a bit too good for the clam population to sustain. I do so wish that the government would address this so as to stop this rise in CO2 before it gets any worse!

5:55PM PDT on Mar 18, 2010

In a human being and hopefully other land mamals a hardened skeleton is considered cause for alarm.Though the crab has an external skeleton,IT DON'T SOUND GOOD!.I also do occasionally eat shell fish.Will a greater portion of that crabmeat now be part of that skeleton.Or is this carbon in effect creating a more biologically pre-historic ocean.

I want a shower bag.

8:25AM PDT on Mar 18, 2010

I fully agree with Lester.

8:24AM PDT on Mar 18, 2010

I fully agree with Lester.

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