Pace of ocean acidification has no parallel in 300 million years, paper finds

A new scientific paper suggests that the ocean is acidifying at a rate that is many times faster than at any time in the past 300 million years. The change is occurring so rapidly that it raises “the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change,” said the paper, published this week in the journal Science.

The new study, led by Bärbel Hönisch, a Columbia University paleoceanographer, does not present much new scientific evidence on the issue. Instead, it is a careful analysis of the existing evidence from decades of research on the earth’s geologic history.

That history features some fast releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that in some ways resemble the current trend of release to which humans greatly contribute by burning fossil fuels today. Those historical releases warmed the planet just as it is warming now. Because much of the extra carbon dioxide released into the air gets deposited in the ocean as a mild acid, past events also caused the ocean to turn more acidic.

But as scientists have long known, and the new paper reiterates, those previous releases were usually much slower than the one occurring now. (While the present-day release of carbon dioxide is slow on a human time scale, it is essentially instantaneous on a geologic time scale.)

 

 

Justin Gills, The New York Times, 2 March 2012. Full article.


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