Ocean Acidification

Healthy oceans are essential for human life. They cover 71 percent of our planet and represent the basic component that makes life on Earth possible. We all depend on healthy oceans. I would say that the most important benefit we all have thanks to the oceans is the oxygen as oceans produce more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere and absorb a big amount of carbon from it. For tens of millions of years, Earth’s oceans have maintained a relatively stable acidity level and this resistant environment with rich and varied web of life in today’s seas has arisen and flourished. But recent research shows that this balance is being undone by a recent and rapid decrease in surface pH that could have serious global consequences. I have chosen to write about ocean acidification mainly due to the fact that this issue is not given as much attention as deforestation, water scarcity or global warming and because of this incontestable importance of oceans for life.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the early 1800s, fossil fuel-powered machines have driven an unprecedented burst of human industry and advancement. The unfortunate consequence, however, has been the emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists now know that about half of this anthropogenic, or man-made, CO2 has been absorbed over time by the oceans (read more here: http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/explore/pristine-seas/critical-issues-ocean-acidification/).

feature_ocean_acidification_inline

Picture 1 https://ensia.com/features/what-does-ocean-acidification-mean-for-sea-life/

When carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed by seawater, chemical reactions occur that reduce seawater pH, carbonate ion concentration, and saturation states of biologically important calcium carbonate minerals. These chemical reactions are termed “ocean acidification“. Calcium carbonate minerals are the building blocks for the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms. In areas where most life now congregates in the ocean, the seawater is supersaturated with respect to calcium carbonate minerals. This means there are abundant building blocks for calcifying organisms to build their skeletons and shells. However, continued ocean acidification is causing many parts of the ocean to become undersaturated with these minerals, which is likely to affect the ability of some organisms to produce and maintain their shells. Over the past two hundred years, the pH level of the ocean surface has decreased by 0.1 units. This change of 0.1 units represents a thirty percent increase in acidity levels. Future predictions show that the oceans will become even more acidic. Based on usual emission scenarios, it is predected that by the end of this century ocean waters could be 150 percent more acidic, that means that pH level will reach a point that haven´t experienced for more than 20 million years (read more here http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F).

The negative effect of bad ocean biochemistry is not only effecting the ocean itself but also coastal cities and people living near the oceans and rivers that depend on its healthy environment the most. Local economies will suffer because of poisoned fish and low supply. Fisherman will not be able to provide food for the local community, and they will suffer also because they cannot sell as much fish as they used to. Tourism will be affected as well because  species living near to the oceans will become extinct. During the years when the oceans have been poisoned by high levels of carbon dioxide, the marine life have not had a possibility to adapt to the new levels of acid in their habitat. Shells erode and species are forever poisoned due to the lack of adaptability the creatures face. There are only few organisms that are able to adapt to the new acidity levels but many other organisms do not have this capacity for evolution. Every single organism is important and play a key role in maintaining the marine food web. Dangers to the biodiversity in the ocean not only affect the marine life food web, but the human food and economic web that depends on healthy fish (read more here: http://www.eartheclipse.com/environment/causes-effects-solutions-of-ocean-acidification.html).

The most convincing evidence that the ocean acidification is effecting marine ecosystems are coral reefs. Coral reefs are massive underwater structures and are some of the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on the planet. They build structures that provide food and shelter for many marine organisms. We can find them in more than 100 countries around the world. Worldwide, coral reefs cover an estimated 285 000 square kilometers, less than 1 percent of the sea floor, but are home to 25 percent of ocean species, including 4 000 species of fish and thousands of plants and animals. Reefs are centres of biodiversity. 3 000 species can live on one reef and depend on the reef for food and shelter. If today’s carbon dioxide levels double as expected by 2100, there will be a 3 to 60 percent decline in the rate of reef building. Coral reefs are being lost more than twice as fast as the rainforests. It is estimated that we will lose the other 50 percent over the next 40 years. We need healthy coral reefs for a healthy world. They are home to more than 1 million diverse aquatic species. They provide new medicines for humans, fisheries depend on them and they provide a natural barrier protecting coastal cities, communities and beaches (read more here: http://therevolutionmovie.com/index.php/open-your-eyes/ocean-acidification/impacts/).

dead-coral

Picture 2 http://dariellf.weebly.com/my-tt-green-team-project.html

Solutions to ocean acidification

Here are some possible solutions that might be helpful in decreasing the impact of ocean acidification:

  • Strict regulations

I think that this might be the best solution because human actions are best guarded by the policies of the country. It is possible to reach it through ratification of legislations that can ensure that the waste handling, among other pollution-risk activities are controlled. These regulations would spread to the fisheries department to ensure that safety is maintained in food consumption.

  • Education

Education is a key factor in every aspect of life and in my opinion it plays a key role in environmental issues. Schools, governments and international organizations can create some projects where they educate or sensitize the common citizens on the risks posed by the climate change and ocean acidification. Such initiatives can instill some self-triggered discipline that acts as guidance for the quest to environmental conservation.

  • Consuming only the “right fish”

Increase in acidity level will make fish consumption a risky affair. This is why the authorities would be tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that only the less harmless fish are going to be sell. This can be very helpful in reducing the chances of having food poisoning and carbon gas circulation in the environment.

  • Reducing the consumption of carbon-oriented energy sources

The presence of high concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is a result of various human activities which can be controlled to some extent. Carbon emitted from the fossil fuels can be reduced through the minimization of use of such fuels. We can switch to alternative/renewable energy sources that are the best available option. Diversification of energy sources such as the use of solar and wind as the alternative energy sources can significantly pay off.

Other ways in which individuals can help to reduce ocean acidification: be mindful of our pollution rates, eat less fish, eat humanely sourced food, use less water, recycle, plant and maintain trees, rely less on coal and fossil fuels, etc. You can read about many other ideas here: http://www.eartheclipse.com/environment/causes-effects-solutions-of-ocean-acidification.html, http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-effects-solutions-of-ocean-acidification.php

To sum up, problem of ocean acidification is relatively recent, and researchers are just beginning to study its effects on marine ecosystems and human life. People do not know much about this problem and may think that it is not so serious issue but we can already see some consequences of bad chemistry of the oceans today. All signs indicate that unless humans are able to control and eventually eliminate our fossil fuel emissions, ocean organisms will find themselves under increasing pressure to adapt to their habitat’s changing chemistry or perish. With the pace of ocean acidification accelerating, scientists, resource managers, and policymakers recognize the urgent need to strengthen the science as a basis for sound decision making and action. But not only scientists can contribute to solve this problem, there are little things we can do every day to make less harmful impact on the environment. Taking care of the Earth is not just a responsibility, it is a privilege.

Petra Kasášová

SOURCES:

  1. http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F
  2. http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification
  3. http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/explore/pristine-seas/critical-issues-ocean-acidification/
  4. http://therevolutionmovie.com/index.php/open-your-eyes/ocean-acidification/impacts/
  5. http://www.eartheclipse.com/environment/causes-effects-solutions-of-ocean-acidification.html
  6. http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-effects-solutions-of-ocean-acidification.php
  7. https://www.nap.edu/read/12904/chapter/6#65
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