The Ocean Floor is Acidifying and Disintegrating at an Alarming Rate

Climate change is causing a variety of very bad situations — more powerful hurricanes, droughts leading to devastating forest fires, rising sea levels and more. Now, scientists say, climate change is also to blame for dissolving ocean floors.

The problem, according to a new study published by PNAS, is ocean acidification.

The ocean floor is lined with calcium carbonite, also known as calcite. A normal and desirable chemical reaction occurs when calcite mixes with water and carbon dioxide. The effect of this combination keeps the acidity of ocean water in check.

These days, thanks to years of increased levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, our oceans absorb much more CO2 than they used to. In fact, the ocean absorbs a third of all carbon dioxide humans produce. That’s about 525 billion tons so far, if you’re keeping score.

In certain areas, the calcite on the ocean floor can’t keep up anymore. There isn’t enough calcite to perform that critical evening out of ocean pH levels. Water acidity therefore rises, causing the calcite on the ocean floor to disintegrate.

“Our study confirms that humans are now a geological force capable of impacting the Earth’s system, like a super-volcano or a meteoritic impact,” lead study author Olivier Sulpis of McGill University told Motherboard.

Increased ocean acidity isn’t just a problem for the seafloor. It threatens marine life in general. The pH levels of ocean water must be within acceptable range for oceanic life to survive and thrive.

When the ocean’s pH is unbalanced for a sustained period, sea creatures at the bottom of the food chain cannot survive. Those marine creatures with skeletons made of calcium carbonate, such as coral or shelled creatures like snails, mollusks and oysters, cannot form. If they do manage to form, their shells just dissolve.

This isn’t just a theory. It’s already happening. Researchers have discovered that in the Pacific ocean, existing acidity levels cause the shells of newly born sea butterflies — a type of sea snail — to begin dissolving.

Bye bye, baby snails. Farewell also to the fish that feed on those snails, like mackerel, salmon and herring. Without these food chain foundational creatures, other sea life that depends on them for sustenance are likewise at risk.

Here’s a statistic to make us all nervous — the last time our oceans were this acidic, 96 percent of ocean life was extinct.

The study reports that in the worst affected area, the western North Atlantic Ocean, between 40 and 100 percent of the seafloor has already been dissolved “at its most intense locations.” Other hotspots exist in the Southern Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.

What we humans do affects our planet in ways we haven’t understood until relatively recently.

“Even at places on our planet where we have never set foot, or that have never been seen by human eyes, such as the deep sea, there is a trace of human activity,” Sulpis told NBC News.

He says that even if we rein in our CO2 emissions right away, it will take centuries for the ocean to correct the pH levels that have gone awry.

What will our oceans look like even 20 years from now? Will we recognize them? The death of creatures at the foundation of the ocean food chain will almost certainly kickstart a domino effect of hardship for marine species who depend on those food sources and habitats.

Will human-caused CO2 emissions be the death knell of sealife as we know it?

Photo credit: Getty Images

58 comments

Tabot T
Tabot T29 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

SEND
Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

TYFS

SEND
John W
John W2 months ago

TYFST

SEND
Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you.

SEND
Shae Lee
Shae Lee2 months ago

Thanks for sharing!

SEND
Ann B
Ann B2 months ago

at the rate we are headed there will BE NO PLANET

SEND
Carole R
Carole R2 months ago

This is really frightening.

SEND
Judith Emerson
Judith Emerson2 months ago

SOS!!!!! SOS!!!!! SOS!!!!! SOS!!!!! SOS!!!!!

SEND
Celine R
Celine Russo2 months ago

In the meanwhile I'm still waiting that those "first-world" countries that signed the COP21 agreements get serious. Like NOW would be nice.

SEND
Janet B
Janet B2 months ago

Thanks

SEND