Ocean acidification around the UK and Ireland


Ocean acidification is a pressing global issue, but what are its impacts more locally to the UK and Ireland? A report led by scientists at Plymouth Marine Laboratory highlights just this, with concerning findings. 

What is ocean acidification

The term ocean acidification is used to describe the ongoing decrease in ocean pH caused by human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, such as the burning of fossil fuels. 

The carbon dioxide goes up into the atmosphere, but it doesn’t stay there. It is absorbed by the ocean, it dissolves into the sea water, and it reacts with the chemistry of the seawater and creates carbonic acid. 

Regardless of where it is emitted, anthropogenic CO2 is mixed throughout the Earth’s atmosphere by wind and weather. The increasing amount of CO2 taken up by the oceans and corresponding pH decline are therefore global phenomena. 

What are the impacts of ocean acidification on a global level? 

On a global level, atmospheric CO2 exceeded 414 parts per million (ppm) in 2021 – a 49% increase above pre-industrial levels – and this has continued to increase by approximately 2.4 ppm per year over the last decade. This ongoing increase is primarily due to CO2 release by fossil fuel combustion, cement production and land-use change (mainly deforestation). 

Dr Helen Findlay, Biological Oceanographer at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study, said: 

“Ocean acidification can influence marine species in a number of ways, including direct impacts on internal physiology or indirectly through changes to food webs and processes.” 

“Some species are already showing effects from ocean acidification when exposed to short-term fluctuations, and these could be used as indicator species for long-term impacts on marine ecosystems.” 

Plymouth Marine Laboratory, 11 January 2023. Full article.

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