Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Ocean Acidification? What can I do about it?



Ocean acidification is a serious environmental issue that is caused by the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is a consequence of climate change that is impacting marine ecosystems and human livelihoods. Some places are acidifying faster than others, such as the Caribbean. While research is still being conducted, what we do know is that it does have negative consequences. It does damage Coral Reefs, which are crucial for economies, flood protection, and various other aspects. 

However, this environmental issue is seemingly unknown within the general population. If I were to ask around, people would have little to no knowledge about what it is, and even less of an idea about what they can do. So that's what I aim to target here. This post does require a baseline understanding of PH, so go read up on that and then come back. 

What is Ocean Acidification?

Ocean acidification refers to the whole suite of chemical changes that happen in the ocean when you start decreasing pH in ocean waters. As you add carbon dioxide to a liquid, it will decrease the pH and start to form acids. The ocean is not turning into acid, per se. Instead, it is just becoming less basic. The ocean was 8.2 on the logarithmic scale before human activity, and we have now moved down by one pH unit to 8.1. The ocean is still basic, as it is still to the right of that value seven, but it has moved towards this direction of more acid – which is very serious.

Causes of Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification is happening as a direct consequence of the amount of carbon dioxide we are emitting into our atmosphere through human activities, like the burning of fossil fuels. Oceans are carbon sinks, meaning that they naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through physicochemical and biological mechanisms. The more carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, the more will be taken up by the ocean. Scientists currently believe that about 25% of all carbon emissions are being absorbed by the ocean, making it one of the world’s largest carbon sinks 1.

Effects of Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification has a significant impact on marine ecosystems and human livelihoods. It affects marine organisms such as corals, mollusks, and plankton by reducing their ability to form shells and skeletons 2. This can lead to a decline in populations of these organisms and ultimately affect entire food webs. Additionally, ocean acidification can affect fish behavior and impair their sense of smell 2. This can lead to reduced survival rates for fish populations.

Mitigative Actions

There are several potential mitigative actions that can be taken to address ocean acidification. One approach is to reduce carbon emissions by transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources like solar or wind power . Another approach is to increase carbon sequestration in soils or forests through reforestation or afforestation. Additionally, there are several strategies for reducing carbon emissions from industrial processes like cement production or steel manufacturing 2.

Expert Analysis

Dr. Ellen Thomas and Dr. Catherine V. Davis are experts in ocean health who have studied the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and human livelihoods. According to Dr. Davis, “The more carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, the more will be taken up by the ocean” 1. Dr. Thomas explains that “ocean acidification refers to the whole suite of chemical changes that happen in the ocean when you start decreasing pH in ocean waters” 1. She further explains that “the concentration of hydrogen ions in the water determines the pH of the ocean, and adding more hydrogen ions to the ocean water makes it less basic and more acidic” 1. There is still debate on whether acidification can significantly affect marine behavior on a large scale, so I'm going to refrain from commenting too much on that. You can look it up for yourself if you're interested, and if anything conclusive comes up, I'll try to update this post.

Conclusion

Ocean acidification is a serious environmental issue that requires immediate attention. It's caused by human activities like burning fossil fuels, and it has significant impacts on marine ecosystems and human livelihoods. There are several potential mitigative actions that can be taken to address this issue, including reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon sequestration in soils or forests. By taking action now, we can help protect our oceans and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.

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1: Yale Experts Explain Ocean Acidification | Yale Sustainability Home > Explainers > Yale Experts Explain Ocean Acidification Yale Experts Explain Ocean Acidification Yale Experts explain Ocean Acidification September 21, 2021 2: Ocean Acidification: Cause, Effect, and Potential Mitigation Approaches