Recently we've been seeing more news stories about a phenomenon called ocean acidification. While phrases like global warming and overfishing have become fairly commonplace in environmental news stories, acidification is a relatively new term. We've mentioned ocean acidification briefly before, but wanted to delve more deeply into the phenomenon and explain its importance to the Southern Ocean and the rest of the world's oceans.
Ocean acidification refers to a process by which carbon dioxide in the air becomes dissolved in the ocean at the surface. Increased carbon dioxide concentrations decrease the pH of seawater, making it more acidic. Since the Industrial Revolution, as anthropogenic (human-created) carbon dioxide levels have increased in the atmosphere, ocean acidification has also increased. The Ocean Acidification Network states that the post-Industrial Revolution pH level has decreased by about 0.1 .
Why is ocean acidification potentially a problem? Many marine animals may not be able to survive in a more acid environment. For examples, corals and other organisms with hard shells or bodies need calcium and carbonate to make their calcium carbonate shells. At lower pH levels, decreased amounts of carbonate are available, and animals cannot produce sufficient calcium carbonate. Other animals may suffer more disease or reproductive problems. These changes could have dramatic impacts on ocean ecosystems, affecting not just marine life but those who depend upon the ocean to provide food and tourist opportunities.
In part 2 of this post, the impacts of ocean acidification and the latest research on ocean acidification will be discussed in greater detail.