CO2 emissions causing ocean acidification to progress at unprecedented rate

Apr 22, 2010

The changing chemistry of the world's oceans is a growing global problem, says the summary of a congressionally requested study by the National Research Council, which adds that unless man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are substantially curbed, or atmospheric CO2 is controlled by some other means, the ocean will continue to become more acidic. The long-term consequences of ocean acidification on marine life are unknown, but many ecosystem changes are expected to result. The federal government's National Ocean Acidification Program, currently in development, is a positive move toward coordinating efforts to understand and respond to the problem, said the study committee.

The ocean absorbs approximately a third of man-made CO2 emissions, including those from fossil-fuel use, cement production, and deforestation, the summary says. The CO2 taken up by the ocean decreases the pH of the water and leads to a combination of chemical changes collectively known as ocean acidification.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the average pH of ocean surface waters has decreased approximately 0.1 unit -- from about 8.2 to 8.1 -- making them more acidic. Models project an additional 0.2 to 0.3 drop by the end of the century. This rate of change exceeds any known to have occurred in hundreds of thousands of years, the report says. The ocean will become more acidic on average as surface waters continue to absorb atmospheric CO2, the committee said.

Studies on a number of marine organisms have shown that lowering pH with CO2 affects biological processes, such as , nutrient acquisition, growth, reproduction, and individual survival depending upon the amount of acidification and the species tested, the committee found. For example, some of the strongest evidence of the potential effects of ocean acidification on comes from experiments on organisms with shells and skeletons. The results showed decreases in shell and skeletal growth in a range of marine organisms, including reef-building corals, commercially important mollusks such as oysters and mussels, and several types of plankton at the base of marine food webs.

The ability of various to acclimate or adapt to ocean acidification is unknown, but existing data suggest that there will be ecological winners and losers, leading to shifts in the composition and functioning of many marine ecosystems, the committee said. Such ecosystem changes could threaten coral reefs, fisheries, protected species, and other natural resources.

Although changes in ocean chemistry caused by increasing atmospheric CO2 can be determined, not enough information exists to assess the social or economic effects of ocean acidification, much less develop plans to mitigate or adapt to them, the committee noted.

The federal government has taken initial steps to respond to the nation's long-term needs with the development of the National Ocean Acidification Program. The committee found that legislation has laid the foundation for a program that will advance our understanding and improve our response to ocean acidification.

The committee recommended six key elements of a successful National Ocean Acidification Program:

  • an integrated acidification observation network that includes the development of new tools, methods, and techniques to improve measurements
  • research in eight broad areas to fulfill critical information gaps
  • assessments to identify stakeholder concerns and a process to provide relevant information for decision support
  • a data management office that would ensure data quality, access, and archiving, plus an information exchange that would provide research results, syntheses, and assessments to managers, policymakers, and the general public
  • facilities to support high-quality research and training of researchers
  • an effective 10-year strategic plan for the program that will identify key goals, set priorities, and allow for community input, in addition to a detailed implementation plan

Explore further: US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

19 hours ago

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

theophys
2 / 5 (4) Apr 22, 2010
The obvious solution to ocean acidification is to allow chemical plants to dump basic solutions into the ocean.

More news stories

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...