Ocean Acidification – The Climate Change Buffer and Another Environmental Disaster in the Making

About one quarter of the human-made CO2 emissions have been absorbed by the oceans creating yet another environmental problem of international concern.  Not only are we changing seawater chemistry, but this is also resulting in carbon sequestration, one that

Image from - http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification

Image from – http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification

creates an environmental disaster in the ocean and delays the inevitable temperature rise associated with our CO2 emissions.  Starting with the impact from the ocean’s perspective – CO2 is absorbed, dissolved in water, and carbonic acid forms. 

Image from - http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification

Image from – http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification

Carbonic acid releases the acidic proton which in turn decreases the amount of carbonate ion, tipping the balance of the “saturation state” of calcium carbonate – the building block for shells.  These changes in the ocean water chemistry spell disaster not just for shellfish (molluscs), but for the entire marine ecosystem.  There is hope though, the IPCC started to recognize ocean acidification in 2007, and RIO +20 called for significant initiatives to mitigate the effect, and GOA-ON, the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network is trying to get a better handle on the extent of acidification worldwide.   In Mexico in 2010 at COP16, the Cancun Agreements barely mentioned Ocean Acidification as a “slow moving event”, we now recognize that the atmosphere and the ocean are inexorably linked.  

 

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One Response to Ocean Acidification – The Climate Change Buffer and Another Environmental Disaster in the Making

  1. Leigh Foy says:

    I will use this with my high school chem students -thanks!

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