Deep reductions, or deep trouble for the oceans

Over 2000 scientists are attending an international scientific congress on climate change, hosted by the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. The March 10-12 congress (”Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions”) focuses on the unprecedented challenges posed by the climate crisis.

Researchers will cover a wide range of themes during the three-day summit. Topics range from the latest findings on the melting of Antarctic ice sheets, to the increasing acidification of the world’s oceans.

The acidification of oceans will be discussed on March 11. With increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we are nearing yet another tipping point. Carbon dioxide dissolves in water to form carbonic acid. Over time, the oceans are becoming more and more acidic. The increased acidity is now well documented, and researchers predict the dire consequences for marine life.

A researcher from California’s Carnegie Institution presents a stern warning. “If current trends in carbon dioxide emissions are not reversed soon, we will produce chemical changes in the oceans of a magnitude that has not been seen for many tens of millions of years,” says climate scientist Ken Caldeira. “A failure to cut carbon dioxide emissions deeply and soon risks widespread extinctions in the marine environment, with difficult-to-predict consequences for marine ecosystems generally.”

Caldeira says rapid increases in levels of carbon dioxide threaten to destroy coral reefs around the world — with unknown impacts throughout marine ecosystems. “If we do not cut carbon dioxide emissions deeply and soon, the consequences of ocean acidification will stand out against the broad reaches of geologic time,” he says.

Other researchers are focusing on the increasing acidification of the Arctic Ocean. An international team of scientists from Europe, the United States and Canada has considered the impacts.

If acidification continues, the ocean will be acidic enough to dissolve the shells of species that use calcite. Bivalve mollusks and other marine life could disappear. These mollusks are a major source of food for walruses, whales and seals, so there would be devastating impacts on Arctic ecosystems. Without deep reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide, marine life in the ocean depths could be in deep trouble.

Mike Buckthought, Sierra Club Canada, 10 March 2009. Article.

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