Ocean acidification risks mass extinction of sea life

Increasing acidity of the oceans due to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions pose a major threat to aquatic life, scientists are warning.

“I am very worried for ocean ecosystems which are currently productive and diverse,” said Carol Turley of Plymouth Marine Laboratory. “I believe we may be heading for a mass extinction, as the [current] rate of change in the oceans hasn’t been seen since the dinosaurs. It may have a major impact on food security. It really is imperative that we cut emissions of CO2.”

A full 50 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels or other substances is absorbed by the ocean, but this does not mean that the substance is rendered harmless. Carbon dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid, thus increasing the overall acidity of ocean water. This has led to a lowering of the ocean’s pH by 0.1 since the Industrial Revolution — a 30 percent increase in acidity.

PH is a measure of relative acidity; pH 7 indicates neutral (water), higher numbers are more alkaline and lower numbers are more acidic.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the ocean’s pH is expected to drop “between 0.14 and 0.35 units over the 21st Century.”

Because life in the oceans has evolved to the pre-Industrial acidity levels, this change will likely change the makeup of ocean life, possibly driving a number of species extinct.

Laboratory studies have suggested that shelled creatures, in particular, may be unable to cope with the expected pH changes. Even more alarming, a study of naturally acidic waters in the Bay of Naples, Italy, finds that even shellfish that are able to tolerate higher acid levels in a short-term laboratory setting simply do not live in such environments in the wild.

“We are very worried,” said researcher Jason Hall-Spencer of Plymouth University. “The changes here have clearly made life impossible for shell-forming creatures. When you start messing around with a complex ecosystem it is impossible to tell what will happen.”

“One thing is certain,” Turley said. “Things will change. We just don’t know yet exactly how they will change. It is not a very wise experiment to be making.”

Sources for this story include: news.bbc.co.uk.

David Gutierrez, NaturalNews.com, 27 April 2009. Article.

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