Ocean Acidification affects us more than we know: The lesser-known sibling of Global Warming is a bi
Global climate change, or the general increase in global temperatures as a result of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, is one of the most significant challenges facing our society today. Impacts of climate change include increasing droughts, increased severity of storms, global sea level rise, and ocean acidification. A recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) attributes a significant amount of these observed changes in global climate and weather to anthropogenic inputs of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels.
Ocean acidification is the name given to the lowering of pH in the oceans as a result of the increased absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. This leads to destruction of various ecosystems and particularly the destruction of the coral reef; which is a serious problem. It matters more than just scuba divers or wildlife photographers not getting some beautiful sights, the detrimental effects are jaw-dropping.
Oceans directly influence the weather. The process of ocean acidification is a bit complicated but one of the most concerning issues is how this acidity affects creatures in the marine biomes and ocean ecosystems.
When CO2 dissolves in water it leads to decreased pH levels. The water becomes less alkaline and more acidic. Oceans have a natural buffering system that allows this system to resist changes in pH. Chemicals in seawater, including carbonates and other ions in the water, bond with hydrogen ions and help keep seawater pH in a fairly small range. This regulation of pH levels in the oceans is important for ocean organisms.
So how does the coral reef come into play? Coral reefs are essentially very fragile skeletons composed of calcium carbonate. This calcium carbonate from the corals serve as buffer systems for the oceans to slow down acidity of the waters. However, with an increased rate of acidification in bodies of water has managed to begin killing off phytoplankton that keep the water cool.
Therefore, one of the many carbon sinks is less than normal which increases the temperature of the water and therefore inducing climate change and global warming. Oceans are sometimes referred to as “carbon sinks” as they remove some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Once dissolved in the ocean some CO2 is absorbed by marine plants and phytoplankton to be used in photosynthesis.
But where did phytoplankton visit the equation?
Well, when phytoplankton lose their shells and they die, there is less carbon being absorbed in the atmosphere which makes the atmosphere warmer. This is an issue because as ocean temperatures rise and become more acidic, corals get stressed which then influences coral bleaching.
A symbiotic relationship between Corals and creatures called “Zooks” (Zooxanthella) is also a very important issue that is not being recognized. This algae provide corals with their color and nutrients. And while corals offer protection to the zooks with their hard skeletons, when the corals get stressed and get rid of the zooks. The issue with this is that the corals lose their color and then die. When the corals die, this impacts a number of ecosystem goods and services such as shoreline protection, important fish and shellfish species, ecological reserve of genetic complexity, raw materials for medicines, and so much more.
This ocean acidification can influence other ecosystems other than those that include corals. For example, the increased acidity of oceans can affect whales and their forms of communication, primarily their echos. The acidity may even deafen whales to where they cannot hear or recognize other echos of familial whales. Similarly, clown fish can wander too far from safety and sea snails fail to avoid prey. These disturbance in the marine biome and ocean ecosystems have terribly effects on terrestrial biomes as well as Earth as a whole.
So what are the consequences of these changes in seawater chemistry on marine organisms?
The short answer is that for the most part scientists don’t exactly know for certain, but most predict that ocean acidification will have overall detrimental effects on marine organisms and ecosystems, specifically on coral reefs.
What scientists do know is that ocean acidification leads to a decrease in the availability of carbonate ions, which are a crucial element in the formation of the shells and skeletons of a number of calcifying marine organisms such as corals, calcareous marine plankton, mollusks, and shellfish. Under normal oceanic conditions, carbonate is considered to be in a saturated state. In this situation, calcifying organisms such as coral are able to utilize carbonate from seawater and deposit it in their skeletons by forming calcium carbonate (CaCO3). As the pH of the oceans becomes more acidic however, carbonate is converted into other molecular forms of carbon (bicarbonate), which cannot be used by corals, and coral carbonate skeletons begin to dissolve instead.