How carbon emissions acidify our ocean and how IAEA helps in understanding its effects

(Graphic: A. Vargas Terrones /IAEA)

Ocean acidification is a consequence of increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a greenhouse gas driving climate change. The ocean absorbs around one third of all human induced CO2, causing a change in seawater chemistry called ocean acidification. It presents a serious threat to marine life, ecosystem health and people whose livelihoods depend on the ocean.

When CO2 dissolves in seawater, it forms carbonic acid (H2CO3), releasing hydrogen ions (H+) and increasing ocean acidity. Acidity plays a key role in many biological mechanisms, including calcification.

Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is crucial for organisms which need calcium to develop, build and maintain their shells and skeletons, such as certain types of plankton, oysters, crabs, sea urchins, shrimps and lobsters.

Ocean acidification makes it harder for them to maintain these calcified structures. This can cause disruptions within food chains.

Vladimir Tarakanov, International Atomic Energy Agency, 8 November 2022. Full article.

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