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Ocean Acidification

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

The ocean is the biggest carbon sink on the planet. It sucks massive amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and has drastically slowed climate change. The ocean has absorbed 30% of the carbon dioxide we have pumped into the atmosphere. That is a million tons every day. Sadly, this comes with some huge downsides. When carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater, chemical reactions occur that reduce the concentration of carbonate ions and calcium carbonate minerals, as well as create carbonic acid. Carbonic acid harms the shells and exoskeletons of calcifying organisms like clams, plankton, and coral. These organisms also need calcium carbonate to form their shells, which is lost when it reacts with carbon dioxide. Without calcium carbonate, these animals’ shells are much thinner, smaller, and weaker. Since these organisms are at the bottom of the food chain, the effects of ocean acidification damage the whole ocean ecosystem, which humans are a big part of. If the ocean ecosystems collapse, the land ones do too. Ocean acidification also harms non-calcifying organisms in many ways. It actually makes it harder for some fish to detect predators or find a suitable habitat. Some animals, like pteropods, which are the base of many food chains, are actually starting to dissolve in the more acidic water. The combination of all of these effects spells out major danger for the ocean. And we haven’t even talked about how warming oceans affect these ecosystems (that will be a later blog). The acidity of the ocean has already gone up by 30% since pre-industrial levels and is projected to double by 2100 if we do not change our actions. If this happens, life on earth will crumble. The only real solution to stop ocean acidification is to stop burning fossil fuels. The less carbon dioxide put into our atmosphere, the less gets sucked up by the ocean.

Photo taken by me.

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