Ocean acidification will cost us dearly

Enjoy serving shrimp, oysters or crabs during your holiday meals? Then you should pay heed to the big climate change meeting coming up in Copenhagen. What nations decide there could determine if our ocean will continue providing tasty shellfish — or instead become part of a perilous chemistry experiment that could ravage valuable fisheries and coral reefs.

The problem, strange as it may seem, is that the ocean is doing a wonderful job of slowing down global warming. Every day, it removes nearly 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — the main warming gas — from the atmosphere. That’s nearly twice what U.S. power plants, cars and factories spew daily into the sky. So we owe the ocean a big thanks for putting a brake on climate change and giving us time to find solutions.

Unfortunately, that help comes at a steep price. When carbon dioxide in the air mixes with seawater, a chemical reaction creates a compound called carbonic acid — the same stuff that gives champagne its acidic zing. In the ocean, however, “acidification” is bad news for shellfish and corals. That’s because as acidification increases — and it is increasing rapidly — the process locks up the carbonate molecules these creatures need to build their shells and stony skeletons. It would be as if you started building a house, and then discovered that someone had locked away your bricks. Imagine trying to survive without reliable shelter or a full skeleton.

Andrew Sharpless, BRADENTONHERALD.com, 2 December 2009. Full article.

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