Ocean’s growing acidity poses global threat, maine researcher warns (audio)

One of the lesser known and potentially catastrophic consequences of global warming is something called ocean acidification. Since the onset of the industrial revolution, acidity in the ocean has increased by about 30 percent. The problem is even more evident in some coastal areas. A researcher at St. Joseph’s College in Standish is on the front lines of demonstrating how shellfish and other ocean life are being threatened.

Picture the ocean as a giant sponge that’s been absorbing carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels for more than 200 years. For a while, scientists thought it was a good thing that about half of all the world’s CO2 was going into the ocean. They thought it might slow the rate of global warming. But there was another more menacing side effect.

“I think the changes are so clear and the evidence is so robust,” says Dr. Mark Green. “I mean when you look at a photograph of a dissolving clam, it’s hard to argue.”

Dr. Green has been researching the effects of ocean acidification on oysters, soft and hard shell clams, bay scallops and mussels for the past 15 years. The problem for creatures with calcium carbonate shells is that CO2 is a soluable gas that produces carbonic acid when it mixes with water.

It’s the reason mothers everywhere warn kids that drinking too much soda will dissolve their teeth. And now the ocean is having the same effect on clams because of a lower ph level. “We put about 21 million metric tons of CO2 into the ocean everyday,” Green says. “One metric ton is equivalent to the weight of a small automobile so we’re putting the weight of approximately 21 million small automobiles worth of CO2 into the ocean everyday.”

Susan Sharon, MPBN, 12 May 2010. Full article and audio.

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