Ocean's acidity is growing worry


Staff member
Oceans' acidity is growing worry
By Les Blumenthal
Friday, Apr. 23 2010
WASHINGTON — With the oceans absorbing more than 1 million tons of carbon
dioxide an hour, a National Research Council study released Thursday found that
the level of acid in the oceans is increasing at an unprecedented rate and
threatening to change marine ecosystems.

The council said the oceans were 30 percent more acidic than they were before
the Industrial Revolution started roughly 200 years ago, and the oceans absorb
one-third of today's carbon dioxide emissions.

Unless emissions are reined in, ocean acidity could increase by 200 percent by
the end of the century and even more in the next century, said James Barry, a
senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California
and one of the study's authors.

"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.

Also testifying was actress Sigourney Weaver, who made passing references to
her roles in "Alien" and "Avatar" while urging Congress to pass global climate
change legislation.

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.

Shellfish growers and commercial fishermen from the Gulf of Alaska to the Gulf
of Mexico are worried.

"This is a devastating ghost lurking in the shadows that would change our whole
lives," said Donald Waters, a commercial fisherman who fishes for red snapper
and king mackerel out of Pensacola, Fla.

The National Research Council report, requested by Congress, said carbon
dioxide emissions were increasing so rapidly that natural processes in the sea
that maintained pH levels couldn't keep up. PH is a scale used to measure acid
or alkaline levels, with 7 being neutral. The average pH of ocean surface
waters has moved from 8.2 to 8.1 and, while that not might seem a lot,
scientists are concerned.

"Like climate change, ocean acidification is a growing global problem that will
intensify with continued carbon dioxide emissions and has the potential to
change marine ecosystems and affect benefits to society," the report said.

The report called for an expanded system to monitor ocean conditions and for
increased research into ocean chemistry and the impact that changes would have.
Scientists think that increased acidity could affect the entire marine food
chain, from microscopic forms of phytoplankton to fish and whales.

The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether it can use the
Clean Water Act to control greenhouse gas emissions because of ocean

Not everyone is convinced that rising acid levels would be devastating.

John Everett, a former scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration who's now a consultant on ocean issues, told the subcommittee
that the oceans will remain alkaline even as they absorb more carbon dioxide.

Everett said that rainwater, which absorbs carbon dioxide as it's falling, is
100 times more acidic than ocean water is. He also assured beachgoers that
their feet won't dissolve when they enter the water. "It doesn't look like it
is a problem," Everett said. "I don't see damage."

Oceans' acidity is growing worry - STLtoday.com

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Thoughts? And please don't turn this into an anti-global warming thread.