Unexpected rise in carbon-fuelled ocean acidity threatens shellfish, say scientists

The world’s oceans are becoming acidic more quickly than climate change models predict, according to scientists who claim it will have a dramatic impact on marine ecosystems.

Water samples collected around an island in the eastern Pacific over the past eight years showed seawater had acidified more than 20 times faster than scientists expected. The effect could be devastating for shellfish and other crustaceans, because acidic waters dissolve calcium carbonate used by the organisms to make their protective shells.

Oceans absorb about a third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities. When the gas dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid, which alters the ocean’s delicate chemical balance.

The increasing acidification of the oceans is likely to have impacts that run throughout the marine ecosystem, because the organisms most affected are at the bottom of the foodchain.

Timothy Wootton, a biologist at the University of Chicago, led a team of researchers who analysed the acidity, salinity and temperature of water around Tatoosh Island off the northwestern coast of Washington state.

Ian Sample, The Guardian, 25 November 2008. Article.

[Comment from Jean-Pierre Gattuso: the terminology used in this article [or web page] 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.]

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