The Science and Solutions of Ocean Acidification

Sea butterfly
“Sea Butterfly” Photo By: Alexander Semenov

By Rhia Singh’17

Climate change is thrown around a lot, but many people refuse to believe it even exists, as its effects are not always apparent. However, one result of climate change, ocean acidification, has tangible detrimental effects on the biodiversity in the ocean.


As more carbon dioxide is stored in the atmosphere, a process called ocean acidification occurs. This is, exactly as it sounds, when the ocean becomes more acidic. The increased use of fossil fuels causes the release of more carbon dioxide molecules into the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs the carbon dioxide and forms carbonic acid. As the amount of carbonic acid increases, the number of hydrogen atoms increase as well causing the pH level of the ocean to decrease. The pH of the ocean is expected to drop from 8.2 to 7.8 in 2050. Although this may seem like a small decrease, the added acidity will severely detriment marine biodiversity.


More specifically, it will impact marine animals with exoskeletons or any that partake in biomineralization. For example, marine pteropods or sea butterflies (types of sea snails), have exoskeletons. An experiment conducted by researchers in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that the acid in the ocean caused the exoskeleton of the snails to disintegrate. Another experiment conducted by R. C. Carpenter, S. Comeau, C. A. Lantz, and P. J. Edmunds for the Biogeosciences Discuss revealed that Ocean Acidification prevented the calcification (accumulation of calcium salts for rigid biological structure like bone and coral) of coral reefs and disintegrated the coral.


Amanda Thomson ’17 , from the Environmental Major, stated, “ One example of [Ocean Acidification] directly impacting the well being of people is the amount of seafood we consume. As the acidity of the ocean increases, animals such as Lobsters, which have exoskeletons, will become extinct.” The biodiversity in the ocean is similar to a domino effect. Humans are a member of the food web and the decrease is different animals, like lobster, could negatively impact the balance of such a food web. As much as preventing climate change can be altruistic, it is also in the best interest of humans to prevent it.


Mr. Cunningham, from the Environmental Major, stated, “The best way to prevent ocean acidification is stop the burning of fossil fuels.” However, some factories have tried to capture carbon dioxide emissions using limestone which has calcium oxide. This method has proven cheap and efficient. However, limestone is unstable and cannot be renewed easily. The best way to prevent ocean acidification is to limit carbon dioxide output.


This is much easier said than done. “Fossil fuels have become integrated into the modern culture. It is used in everything from cars to factories,” stated Anjali Singh ’17 from the bioscience major. It may be difficult to reduce carbon emissions but for the sake of preventing ocean acidification and saving ocean biodiversity, it’s worth a shot.



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