Editorial: Acid test

North Atlantic Right Whales.Jessica Taylor/New England Aquarium photo.

Right whales in the North Atlantic.  Photo Credit: Jessica Taylor/New England Aquarium

Scientists tend to be cautious folk.

They tend to couch their words carefully when they talk about things like a recently observed 50 per cent reduction in zooplankton in parts of the North Atlantic, and the effects that could be having on the cod stocks.

But here are three remarkably clear paragraphs from Canada’s Changing Climate Report 2019.

Read them — there won’t be a test at the end, but maybe there should be.

“An increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is not only contributing to greenhouse warming of the global climate system, it is also affecting the ocean carbon cycle and changing the fundamental chemistry of the ocean. The ocean has taken up more than a quarter of the CO2 produced by human activities, mainly from fossil fuel burning, since the start of the Industrial Era. While this uptake has helped to slow the rate of anthropogenic climate change, it has also resulted in increased acidity of the ocean (referred to as ocean acidification).”

See? Pretty clear so far. By all means, do read on.

“Acidification takes place after CO2 gas from the atmosphere is transferred into the surface of the ocean, where it dissolves and forms carbonic acid. This process causes a decrease in pH and in the concentration of carbonate ions, a building block of organisms with calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. This process also results in a decrease in the ocean’s saturation state (a measure of the thermodynamic potential for a particular mineral to form in a solid state or to be dissolved) … These changes can result in seawater having a corrosive effect on shells and skeletons, dissolving them, inhibiting their growth, or causing them to require more energy to grow. Ocean acidification may have many other harmful effects for marine organisms, including increased mortality of young, changes in behaviour, food web changes, reduction in suitable habitat for some species, and increases in harmful algal blooms.”

All good? Let’s finish up.

“Globally, the pH of ocean surface waters has decreased by 0.1 since the beginning of the Industrial Era. The largest reduction has occurred in the northern North Atlantic, and the smallest reduction, in the subtropical South Pacific. Oceans have not experienced pH changes this rapid for at least the last 66 million years and possibly the last 300 million years. Some acidification events in Earth’s history have led to some species becoming extinct and others recovering slowly. This raises serious concerns about the resilience of marine ecosystems to increasing atmospheric CO2.”

The nice part is you don’t have to be a scientist to read and understand it.

The not-so-nice part? We’re located in the northern North Atlantic, we’re seeing changes that could be a clear result of ocean acidification, and we’re doing precious little about it. And our future is at risk.

Class dismissed.

The Telegram, 4 April 2019. Article.

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