CO2 Acidifies Oceans, Kills Sea Life

One of the well-known consequences, and hoped for respites, from the build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is its absorption in our oceans, likely amounting to half of the CO2 we produce. The world’s oceans hold a stock of carbon far greater than the atmosphere. But it turns out human fossil-fuel burning has already resulted in a significant change in ocean chemistry – acidification, according to this New Scientist article based on a new UK Royal Society report (PDF of full report). CO2 releases as large as we now produce will reduce ocean pH from 8.2 to 7.7 by the year 2100, a rate a hundred times the rate of change for the previous million years.

The report was produced by an international group of scientists, led by John Raven of the University of Dundee. It concludes significant damage will be done to many plankton species, corals, and many ocean species higher up the food chain; damage that would be irreversible likely for thousands of years. Action is needed NOW on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, before the worst consequences become inevitable.

3 thoughts on “CO2 Acidifies Oceans, Kills Sea Life”

    1. What has the measured change been? 0.025?
    2. Headline says “Kills Sea Life”: What life has been killed?
    3. What creatures will benefit from such change?
    4. What happened during past variations?
    5. One scientist claims that one type of creature will fail to transfer carbon to the ocean bottom, thus the ocean will take a long time to remove carbon. He does not mention other mechanisms, such as how the “mucus houses” will be affected. Perhaps this is because he doesn’t know about them and that they may remove as much as what he is referring to. What else does he not know?
  1. Sorry, I missed that from earlier reading, but it is discussed in this NY Times article on this today. The 8.2 pH is apparently the pre-Industrial Revolution number; the current number is 8.1. As they point out, “The 0.1 pH change means there are now 30 percent more hydrogen ions in the water.”

    What sea life has been killed? Anything with a shell that the increased acidity has made weaker enough to fail where it wouldn’t have otherwise. That seems to be what the report in question is saying anyway.

    The interesting thing from the NY Times report is the Cato Institute point that atmospheric CO2 levels have been higher for 90 million of the past 100 million years. I think Ken Caldeira’s response isn’t quite right – but the point that we have, in 200 years, returned to the state the atmosphere was in 10 million years ago, reversing the historical decline in CO2 at a rate at least 5000 times faster is certainly apropos: fast change is necessarily more disruptive to the planet’s living things than the more natural slow rate of the past.

  2. “What sea life has been killed? Anything with a shell that the increased acidity has made weaker enough to fail where it wouldn’t have otherwise. That seems to be what the report in question is saying anyway.”

    The report was implying that, but did it list anything which was known to be affected?

    “…the more natural slow rate of the past.”

    How do you know natural rates have been slow? Most sources of past information are only oriented toward an average level. Knowing what the average was over a 10,000 year period does not indicate how quickly levels changed during that time.

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