CO2 sensors deployed south of Point Conception
The loading of carbon dioxide into oceans is a consequence of fossil fuel use that has only begun to be widely recognized as problematic in the past decade. Its subsequent effects on seawater chemistry have the potential to spread ecological disaster to a variety of industries dependent on the seas.
To understand what the world might expect, several Scripps research teams are drawing on the institution’s expertise in long-term climate data collection and on new technologies that will help them understand when, where, and how ocean chemistry changes when the seas are overwhelmed by increasing infusions of carbon dioxide. They are joining a growing number of international scientists who are turning their attention to the issue. Their collective hope is to understand whether the oceans are approaching a tipping point of widespread damage and to see what can be done to prevent it…
As humans burn oil and coal, carbon dioxide is released and accumulates in the atmosphere. A little less than half of it stays in the sky and about a third enters the oceans, dissolving into seawater at the ocean surface.
When ocean water absorbs CO2, the two react to form carbonic acid. The acid reacts with carbonate ions, making the ions less available in ocean waters to shell-forming organisms. Robbed of sufficient quantities of a main ingredient for their shells, these organisms may become less hardy and less able to replenish their numbers.
The trend scientists are seeing might seem small. The average pH of water at the ocean’s surface has fallen from 8.16 to 8.05 since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the advent of fossil fuel use. Pure water in comparison has a pH of 7.
But marine organisms that build shells have grown accustomed to a certain chemical background and they do not take such a decrease well — especially at the pace scientists are documenting. The rate of change that marine creatures have endured in fewer than three centuries is 100 times faster than the rate of change over the preceding 850,000 years. And once the lower pH water is present, it will be there for a long time because of the slow pace of ocean circulation…
“What we’re doing now will have impacts in our lifetime,” said Victoria Fabry. “We are certainly leaving a legacy to our children and grandchildren and they’re going to ask what did we do about it.”
Industrialists of the world – in their ignorance and carelessness – have turned the waters of the world, the air we breathe, the soil we grow our food in, into open sewers. It may not look as disgusting as it has in some public places in the past; but, the poisons and the damage is cumulative.
What we don’t suffer will fall to following generations to suffer – and strive to cure.