Friday, April 23, 2010

Spiralling Out of Control - Our Acidic Oceans

One million tons of carbon dioxide each and every hour. That's the amount of CO2 the world's oceans absorb and it's why, according to the US National Research Council, our oceans are today 30% more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution.

Okay, it's pretty obvious this isn't good but there's much worse in store unless we decarbonize our societies and our economies. James Barry, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California and one of the study's authors warns that, the way we're heading, ocean acidity could increase 200 per cent by the end of this century and far more in the next.

"Acidification is changing the chemistry of the oceans at a scale and magnitude greater than thought to occur on Earth for many millions of years and is expected to cause changes in the growth and survival of a wide variety of marine organisms, potentially leading to massive shifts in ocean ecosystems," Barry told the Senate Commerce Committee's Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee on Thursday.

The effects of growing ocean acid levels might be more pronounced off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Cold water absorbs more carbon dioxide than warm water does. A phenomenon known as "upwelling" off the coast of Washington state and Oregon also brings deep ocean water — which already is more acidic — to the surface, where it's saturated with even more carbon dioxide. According to one study, upwelling of acidified water off the West Coast had reached levels that hadn't been anticipated until 2050.

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