Ocean acidification is the reduction of ocean water's pH over a period of time. The primary cause is atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolving in the sea. Acidification leads to a change in the chemical properties of water, making the ecosystem dangerous to its flora and fauna. When carbon dioxide is released into the environment, the ocean takes up approximately 30% of the amount. After a time, the level of the ocean starts to rise, and the biodiversity is lost. The effect of acidic water is similar to that of using soda water to irrigate or drink. At the end of the day, ocean acidification is a danger to the whole planet. Remember that disruption of the organism at the bottom of the food chain has an adverse effect on the topmost feeders, such as human beings.
5. Ocean Acidification: A Brief Overview
Since the Industrial Revolution, which commenced more than 200 years ago, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased significantly. This has primarily been due to the burning of fossil fuels used every day by humans, as well as land use changes. With deforestation growing at a peril rate, the oceans are left as the only ecosystem capable of absorbing much of the released carbon dioxide by up to 30%. When the planet was all green before civilizations and urbanization, the trees absorbed the released CO2 and maintained it at safe levels. Today that is no longer the case. When absorbed by the ocean, CO2 causes a series of chemical reactions that alter the ionic balance of water. The hydrogen ions increase making the sea water more acidic while the carbonate ions decrease. These changes in ocean chemistry have a diverse effect on the non-calcifying and calcifying organisms as well. For calcifying organism synthesizing the calcium carbonate shells becomes hard while the survival instinct of non-calcifying organisms is reduced.
4. What Causes Ocean Acidification (Chemical Process)?
Ocean acidification involves a number of chemical process. The carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in water (H2O) to create carbonic acid (H2CO3). Carbonic acid is a weak acid which separates the hydrogen ions (H+) and the bicarbonate ions (HCO3-1) and the hydrogen ions combines with the carbonate ions (CO3-2) in the water. Many creatures in the sea with skeletons and shells made of calcium carbonate rely on the carbonate ions to build their shells and skeletons. On average the sea water has a pH that has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1, which is approximately 30% increase in acidity on pH scale. The industrial revolution all over the world is the primary cause of ocean acidification. Industrial processes release most of the atmospheric carbon dioxide. Other causes are burning of fossil fuels, changes in land use, surface runoffs, pollution, dumping of industrial and domestic effluents to water bodies, production alteration of bio-gas, and deforestation. All of these human activities contribute to higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.
3. How Do Our Activities Affect Ocean Acidification?
There are two primary sources responsible for this influx of atmospheric carbon dioxide, namely fuel burning emissions and deforestation. Fossil fuel emissions are gasses released from cars, airplanes, factories and power plants burning fuels such as oil, coal, or gas. The industrial revolution brought into play an increased need for these fossil fuels, and our consumption and over-reliance of the fuel has led to ocean acidification. Deforestation, on the other hand, has two contributing factors. When we burn down forests to create space for agriculture and extend urbanization, we emit a great deal of carbon dioxide into an already delicate atmosphere. When trees are cut down, there are fewer systems of absorbing CO2 since forests and plant life as a whole are carbon sinks because green plants need carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. In general, when we clear forests we not only increase the amounts of atmospheric CO2 but also destroy the systems that help absorb it.
2. Effects Of Ocean Acidification On Marine Life
The increased acidity of sea and ocean water robs marine organisms such as mollusks and corals of the carbonate ions they require to build their shells, exoskeletons, and reefs. Additionally, ocean acidification erodes the structures the calcifying organisms have already made. Decreased calcification compromises the fitness of these organisms. For non-calcifying organisms, the high acidity tends to lower their senses and hence their survival instincts. As a result, these species which prey on others or escape predation using their enhanced ability to detect slight changes in the environment are no longer able to feed. Hence, their development regarding growth and reproduction reduces. Acidification will finally affect all the marine life and in the end will affect our food chain. It has been observed in Pteropods the tiny marine snails which form a vital food source for the Pacific salmons. Acidification will alter the cycling of nutrients, elements, and compounds in the oceans and will shift the competitive advantage among the species and therefore changing the ecosystem and distorting the food web.
1. How To Address The Issue Of Ocean Acidification?
Carbon dioxide air pollution is the primary cause of ocean acidification. Reducing our carbon emissions is the best strategy for addressing ocean acidification at its root. Reducing surface run-offs, pollution, and reducing the industrial waste released into water bodies will also help in tackling the impact of water acidity. Coast extensive collaboration around the globe could also assist in establishing measures and practices that will keep our water bodies free from human activities that lead to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientific research on ocean acidification and ways of mitigating it are still underway. Support for these studies will contribute significantly to solving and probably control this evil twin of climate change.
What is Ocean Acidification?
Ocean acidification is the reduction of ocean water's pH over a period of time. The primary cause is atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolving in the sea. Acidification leads to a change in the chemical properties of water, making the ecosystem dangerous to its flora and fauna.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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