As carbon dioxide continues to enter the atmosphere from combustion of fossil fuels, roughly 30% is absorbed by the ocean. CO2 in the ocean does not have the insulating effect it does in the atmosphere–water is quite efficient enough itself in retaining heat–but it does affect the chemistry.
The global mean for pH–acidity vs alkalinity–of the ocean was 8.2 prior to the Industrial Revolution, and is now 8.1. The ocean is becoming more acidic, because of the added CO2. When carbon dioxide goes into solution in water, the reaction forming carbonic acid takes place:
H2O + CO2 <–> H + HCO3-
Only a low percentage of dissolved CO2 becomes this acid, but it’s been enough to make the global ocean more acidic, with widespread effects. Many animals and microscopic plankton produce their own shells from minerals absorbed from seawater. But in the increasing acidity–the dropping pH–of the ocean, those shells are dissolving again, leaving a growing number of sea creatures without their ordinary form of protection. The lowering pH also impacts coral reefs: along with rising temperatures it causes the corals to lose their color (“bleach”) and then die.
Illustration: mean oceanic pH over the past 25 million years. (https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/ocean-acidification)
Tomorrow: eustatic sea level.
This post was previously published on dailykos.com and is republished on Medium.
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