Friday, January 9, 2009

Ocean Acidification, Part 2

Yet another sobering story on ocean acidification. Previous research has suggested that the the so-called tipping point for ocean acidification would occur around 2050. The tipping point for acidification is defined as the pH level at which the calcium carbonate levels in the ocean would be depleted enough to effect marine life. Many animals need calcium carbonate, including some types of plankton, a key part of many marine food webs. Without calcium carbonate, they cannot form their shells and will die.

Recent research on CO2 emissions worldwide shows that they are much higher than predicted. The ocean can only absorb so much CO2 before reaching the critical tipping point, so higher emissions could mean that the oceans will reach the tipping point as early as 2030. Acidification is different in different ocean areas due to seasonal variations, but in areas with a lower, more acidic pH, scientists have already seen evidence of dissolved shells. In locations as varied as the Florida Keys, the coast of Washington State, and the Southern Ocean, scientists have seen significant trends toward acidification that have led them to believe that the tipping point is closer than previously expected.

Though at this point merely a mostly-unnoticed side issue to global warming, ocean acidification is serious and could have an enormous impact on marine food chains. At a time when global fish stocks are already in decline, we should be very concerned about the possibility of even greater damage to ocean life.

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