Changing the chemistry of Earth’s oceans

The oceans have always served as a sink for carbon dioxide, but the burning of fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution, especially over the last 40 years, has given them more than they can safely absorb. The result is acidification — a change in the chemical balance that threatens the oceans’ web of life.

In earth’s history, there have been many episodes of acidification, mainly from prolonged volcanic eruptions. According to a new research review by paleoceanographers at Columbia University, published in Science, the oceans may be turning acid far faster than at any time in the past 300 million years.

Changing something as fundamental as the pH of seawater — a measurement of how acid or alkaline it is — has profound effects. Increased acidity attacks the shells of shellfish and the skeletal foundation of corals, dissolving the calcium carbonate they’re made of. Coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Ocean acidification threatens the corals and every other species that makes its living on the reefs.

 

The New York Times, 9 March 2012. Full article

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