Ocean turning to acid at lightning speed

Increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is making the Pacific coast acidic far more rapidly than previously believed, potentially wreaking havoc for creatures living in it that are unable to tolerate the swiftly changing environment.

Ecologists at the University of Chicago tracked the acidity of the Pacific off an island close to Washington state over the course of eight years. Their results, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: the waters here are becoming acidic 10 times more quickly than had been predicted using other models. Their data also shows that populations of mussels—key animals in that ecosystem—are declining rapidly as the ocean becomes less alkaline.

Oceans, like trees, absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, playing a big role in slowing down climate change. When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid. This extra acidity can dissolve seashells, making life particularly hazardous for many shellfish, as well as all creatures from ducks to humans that depend on them as a source of food.

[Comment from Jean-Pierre Gattuso: the terminology used in this article is not scientifically accurate. The definition of “acidic” in the Oxford English dictionary is “having the properties of an acid; having a pH of less than 7”. This definition does not apply to un-manipulated seawater now nor in the foreseeable future. Hence, the adjective “acidic” should not be used. Note that here are very few exceptions, for example in the immediate vicinity of CO2 vents.]

Susannah F. Locke, Scientific American, 24 November 2008. Article.

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