What is ocean acidification?

Ocean acidification is the ongoing reduction in the basicity of the earth’s ocean as a result of the uptake of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere over an extended period.

Ocean - acidity

Global warming, as we all are aware of, is one of the major concerns that the present generation has to deal with.  It is primarily caused by

  • our constant emissions of carbon dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and natural gas
  • burning of vegetation

Such emissions pose a threat to the very chemistry of ocean water and considerably alter marine life within the span of a single human lifetime.

Of all the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the air, a quarter of which is absorbed by land plants, and another quarter is taken up by the oceans. However, studies show that since the Industrial Revolution period, around half of all CO2 that mankind ever generated has already gone down into the oceans, adversely affecting life therein.

The oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere in order to achieve equilibrium by direct air-to-sea exchange, which process normally takes place in hundreds to thousands of years. Because of the ocean’s generosity to absorb CO2 emissions, the effects of global warming are remarkably reduced.  

Ocean - shells dissolve

But then, just like any being or entity, the oceans, too, can only take so much. Once CO2 is dissolved in the ocean, a carbon atom stays there and reacts with the ocean water to form carbonic acid. This reaction process is called ocean acidification. Over time, carbonic acid eventually causes the basicity level of the oceans to dramatically decrease; consequently making seawater more acidic.

The Potential Hydrogen (pH) scale measures the acidity and basicity of an aqueous solution, where zero indicates the most acidic, and 14 the most basic, or alkaline. Ocean water has the value of 8.16 on the basic side of the pH balance scale.  It is even more alkaline than fresh water, which holds a value of only 7.0, or neutral. Because of the increasing level of carbonic acid, the oceans’ pH has tipped towards the acid side of the scale, which value now has dramatically dropped to 8.05 since the start of the Industrial Revolution. This is, indeed, an alarming shift compared to any period in the 650,000 years prior to that era.

It should be noted that the pH scale is logarithmic, which means that a slight shift is equivalent to a 30 percent rise in acidity.  Any alteration to the oceans’ pH balance level, no matter how slight it may be, can adversely affect marine life as well as on mankind’s fishing and other industries. For example, the ocean’s alkalinity plays a vital role in building strong protective shells for mussels and skeletons for corals. Likewise, pH alteration interrupts whale navigation, and exhausts plankton supply at the bottom of the food chain.

Unfortunately, many of the effects of ocean acidification are irreversible. Scientists have predicted that if mankind continues to be indifferent about the carbon dioxide emission issue, the world’s oceans will become 150 percent more acidic by the end of this century.

Watch the documentary video and see the frightening effects of ocean acidification.

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