USC researcher experiments with changing ocean chemistry (audio)

Burning fossil fuels doesn’t just put more carbon into the atmosphere and help warm the climate. It’s also changing the chemistry of sea water. KPCC’s Molly Peterson visits a University of Southern California researcher who studies the consequences of a more corrosive ocean.

Tailpipes and refineries and smokestacks as far as the eye can see in Los Angeles symbolize the way people change the planet’s climate. They remind Dave Hutchins that the ocean’s changing too.

Hutchins teaches marine biology at USC. He says about a third of all the carbon, or CO2, that people have pushed into earth’s atmosphere ends up in sea water – “which is a good thing for us because if the ocean hadn’t taken up that CO2 the greenhouse effect would be far more advanced than it is.” He smiles.

Hutchins says that carbon is probably not so good for the ocean. “The more carbon dioxide that enters the ocean the more acidic the ocean gets.”

On the pH scale, smaller numbers represent more acidity. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute estimates we’ve pumped 500 million tons of carbon into the world’s oceans.

Dave Hutchins at USC says that carbon has already lowered the pH value for sea water. “By the end of this century we are going to have increased the amount of acid in the ocean by maybe 200 percent over natural pre-industrial levels,” he says. “So we are driving the chemistry of the ocean into new territory – into areas that it has never seen.”

Hutchins is one of dozens of scientists who study the ripples of that new chemistry into the marine ecosystem.

Molly Peterson, KPCC, 19 January 2011. Full article and audio.

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