Acid oceans: Global warming’s ‘evil twin’

New report warns of dire threat to marine ecosystems if CO2 rise is not halted

The findings of a major study on the health of the world’s oceans have been released to coincide with the COP15 climate conference. The report, which was compiled by The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, highlights the direct link between manmade CO2 emissions and the rising acidity levels of the world’s seas.

The study found that around a quarter of all carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities, has been absorbed by the oceans. Without this absorption the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be markedly higher and the effects of global warming more severe. Although this process may have bought some time, the report states, it has not been without a cost: rising levels of marine acidity.

At current rates, the report estimates ocean acidity will increase by 150 percent by 2050, a rate of acidification 100 times greater than anything that has occurred in the last 20 million years. This will leave little chance for adaptation by marine organisms and cause the widespread dying off of the world’s corals. In addition, shelled organisms will not be able to survive the increased acidity, which will likely lead to a wide scale collapse of the marine food chain.

Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention gave this warning: “Ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years, and substantial damage to ocean ecosystems can only be avoided by urgent and rapid reductions in global emissions of CO2.”

The report stresses that the precise effect on marine life cannot be known, but says there is an emerging body of research that suggests the effects will be variable and complex. In particular it is thought that micro organism at the base of the food chain, such as pteropods, coccolithophores, as well as larger calcifying organisms such as mussels, oysters and crabs will be worst affected.

Dr Tomas E.Lovejoy, Biodiversity Chair of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and Environment notes in the preface to the report “This publication on the impacts of ocean acidification on marine biodiversity is very timely and germane, as it confirms again how great the stakes of sustainability are in the climate change negotiations.”

In November Dr Jane Lubchenco, the Obama appointed head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) described ocean acidification as “global warming’s evil twin” and stressed that it was equally as important a problem. Lubchenco was picking up an honorary doctorate from the University of Copenhagen for her work on sustainability when she made her remarks, adding that the aim of COP15 should be “To reduce emissions as much as possible as fast as possible.”

Asked whether the problem was a scientific or a moral one, Lubchenco told The COP15 Post “We owe it to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren to tackle this problem head on and fix it.”

Jason Heppenstall, The COP15 Post, 15 December 2009. Article.

1 Response to “Acid oceans: Global warming’s ‘evil twin’”

  1. 1 Jean-Pierre Gattuso 19 December 2009 at 11:09

    The title of this article is unfortunate because, despite the process of ocean acidification, the oceans are alkaline and will not become acid (pH lower than 7) even in the distant future.

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