Rising concerns over ocean acidification

The oceans cover over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. Only 5 percent of this area has been adequately mapped and explored since the dawn of marine science. Such immense entities might seem untouchable, but anything is possible in the Anthropocene, our current geological state marked by heavy human influence on the environment. Since the Industrial Revolution in 1760, the acidity of the ocean has increased by 25 percent.

Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves into the ocean. Over a third of emitted CO2 ends up in the ocean, where it then reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. Carbonic acid lowers the pH of the water, creating detrimental effects on the organisms living there. For some time, acidic environments have been known to disrupt and dissolve the calcium carbonate shelters built by organisms such as coral and shelled creatures. Now, it is clear that more than just shelled animals are in danger.

A recent study published in the Journal of Science states that ocean temperatures are rising at rates 40 percent faster than estimated five years ago, which will likely cause a multitude of other problems, including an increased rate of acidification.

A newly discovered consequence of acidification is the increased presence of copper ions in the ocean. This may not seem like a major problem, but many parts of the ecosystem are incredibly sensitive to changes in ion concentrations. A 2014 study in environmental science and technology indicates that these copper ions interfere with the proper formation of the DNA of some organisms and cause mutations, specifically affecting the Polychaeta worms examined in the study.

Aside from the death and destruction faced by millions of living creatures that call the ocean their home, humans will also suffer from the changing of the oceans. As the ice caps continue to melt, water levels are anticipated to rise a foot by 2100, wreaking havoc on coastal cities and those already experiencing heavy storm damage. The few species of fish that are immune to acidification have even begun to relocate in order to accommodate the changing temperatures, causing trade wars among fishermen, according to Pierre-Louis of the New York Times. The oceans have overall become a more toxic environment for humans to spend time in.

The rapid destruction of our oceans is certainly a lot to think about, especially as an individual. Corporations — particularly those that utilize fossil fuels and make these fuels cheapest for the consumer — must act on a large, systematic scale if mitigation of climate change is to occur. Meanwhile, individuals should advocate for the use of more sustainable energy sources, both personally and for companies. Hopefully the future of the oceans is not as bleak as current scientific projections suggest.

Melanie Mandell, The Catalyst, 28 January 2019. Article.

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OA-ICC HIGHLIGHTS

Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book