The extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that contributes to global warming doesn’t just mean trouble for land inhabitants; the ocean is growing more and more acidic due the excess carbon dioxide floating around. The ocean has absorbed the extra carbon dioxide, which has surprised and concerned scientists.
The coral reef is most ocean life threatened by the rising acid levels and what has been described as a sort of “osteoporosis” is causing the reef to die (resulting in a white bleached coloring). High levels of ocean acidity hinder and sometimes prevent the formation of coral skeletons. The reef is a strong entity, but the skeletal thinning will cause severe deterioration. Coral reefs are also the producers of seashells. The death of the reed, particularly in Australia, threatens a variety of sectors including tourism and food security.
This surprising new revelation has provoked a lot of concern because of the serious consequences it has on the ocean and ocean life. Climate change in general has devastating consequences, but this new factor is considered unprecedented as well as unexpected. Scientists initially expected that the carbon dioxide being absorbed by the water would dilute as shallow and deep waters mixed together. Unfortunately for the reef, the carbon dioxide is settling in the shallow waters, making them much more acidic than usual.
Oyster populations will suffer because high ocean acidity causes their shell growth to be stunted. A study showed high ocean acidity levels also affect clown fish. An experiment was performed in which high acidity levels were replicated, in particular the levels that are expected by the end of this century. Clown fish began swimming towards their predators instead of away from them because the high levels of acidity caused a dulling in their sense of smell. Like clown fish, salmon also depend on using their sense of smell to locate their natal breeding grounds, and it’s a very real possibility that if their smell was impaired they could no longer do so.
The changing chemistry of oceans affects a lot of behavior, much of which is still being studied. The continuance of more severe weather could be exacerbated by a rise in ocean acidity, as the reefs protect coastlines from tsunamis. Thankfully, a reduction in carbon emissions could help lower the acidity. The more people pollute the harder it becomes to solve the problem. Without serious concern about the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and their reduction more and more problems will arise. Some instruments are currently in place to help oyster farmers reduce the level of exposure to ocean water. The tools measure the changes in acidity as they can monitor they flow of water to hatcheries.
Long-term solutions need to be implemented. The carbon emissions that are currently in the atmosphere will continue to be absorbed for the next several decades and it will be a long time before the ocean could return to normal levels. The Environmental Protection Agency provides many ways that you can personally help reduce your emissions at home, at school, and at work.
Oceana has started a petition specifically geared at reducing green house gas emissions in order to lower ocean acidification. To sign click here. You will be preventing a mass extinction of coral reefs by reducing your carbon dioxide emissions and by supporting Oceana and its efforts to get the Congress to act on behalf of the oceans and support legislation that backs alternative energy and the reduction of the use of fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases. Otherwise, as is the case with all matters that pertain to global warming, the events that follow will be catastrophic and irreversible.
Photo credit: noaa.gov/features/climate/images/fig1_reef_fullsize.jpg