The other CO2 problem

The global environmental threat is growing as the world is going to face another problem in near future alongside the global warming and climate change. The discovery of this emerging global problem is quite recent and it has received relatively little attention until now but within the next few decades it may turn out to be one of the most severe in terms of impacts on marine life.

Due to the continued high level of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, seawater chemistry is changing which is causing it to be more acidic. This phenomenon termed as ”ocean acidification” appeared in the scientific literature for the first time in 2003. This is also being known as the ”other CO2 problem” or the ”evil twin of global warming” because the same human induced CO2 emission that is causing global warming and climate change is also responsible for this acidification of the oceans. Ocean acidification specifically refers to the increase of seawater acidity (i.e. decrease of ocean pH) due to its absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The underlying chemistry behind ocean acidification is very simple. When the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) comes in contact with the surface water of the ocean, CO2 dissolves there to form a weak acid known as carbonic acid (H2CO3). Carbonic acids are very unstable and convert into hydrogen ions (H+) and bicarbonate ions (HCO3). It is a natural process in the surface water of the oceans and includes a series of chemical reactions. However, since the industrial revolution we have released more and more CO2 in the atmosphere. Therefore, the ocean has also absorbed greater amount of CO2 at increasingly rapid rates which is too much for the ocean’s natural ability to adjust to changes in CO2.

Md. Yusuf Sarker, The Daily Star, 7 May 2011. Full article.

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