Have you ever gone fishing or digging for clams? Do you like to eat fish or clams? Well, ocean acidification may impact your ability to go fishing or digging for clams and to enjoy eating seafood.
What is ocean acidification?
Ocean acidification is the falling of pH levels of ocean water. A lower pH level means that the water is more acidic.
In the past 200 years or so the ocean pH level has decreased by 0.1 units. While this may seem like an insignificant change, this results in an increase in acidity of approximately a 30%!
The ocean’s current pH level is around 8.1, but with ocean acidification, it is predicted to reach 7.8 by the end of the century.
What is the pH scale?
The pH scale is a measure of how acidic or basic something is. The scale ranges from zero to 14 with seven being neutral. Anything above 7 is considered basic and anything under seven is acidic.
But, how is pH determined?
pH is a measure of the ratio between hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions; the more hydrogen ions present the higher the acidity and the lower the pH. If there is an equal number of hydrogen and hydroxide ions the substance is neutral and has a pH of 7.
What are some examples of pH?
Lemon juice has a pH level of 2 and is very acidic. Tomato juice is also very acidic with a pH of 4. Pure water has a pH of 7 and is neutral while on the basic side is seawater with a pH of 8. Soapy water is even more basic with a pH level of 12.
What causes ocean acidification?
Ocean acidification is caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs as much as 30% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So therefore, as the CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere, the levels in the ocean rise, too.. In the past 200 years or so the ocean has absorbed 525 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
Once carbon dioxide is absorbed in the ocean it causes a series of chemical reactions. Carbon dioxide and seawater combine to form carbonic acid. The carbonic acid then dissociates (breaks down) into hydrogen ions and bicarbonate ions.
With the increase of carbon dioxide in the water the amount of hydrogen ions increases too. When more hydrogen ions are present a substance has a lower pH level, so as more carbon dioxide is absorbed the ocean water becomes more acidic. In this way, increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere cause ocean acidification.
Why is ocean acidification a problem for sea creatures?
Ocean acidification has many negative impacts, but it has especially harmful effects on sea creatures with hard shells and coral. The shells of these creatures and the skeletons of coral are made out of calcium and carbonate.
Ocean acidification causes less carbonate to be available as it bonds with hydrogen ions. This means that these shellfish are unable to form new shells, which can be extremely detrimental to them. Studies have also found that if water becomes too acidic, shells or coral skeletons can dissolve.
What are some other impacts of ocean acidification?
Ocean acidification puts the food web at risk. One reason for this is because it makes it harder for larval fish to find appropriate habitat which causes less fish to reach maturity. This, in turn, decreases predators ability to find prey.
This is only one specific example; ocean acidification will impact the abundance of countless species which will all disrupt or alter the food chain. This disruption of the food chain may reach all the way up to humans as many people eat fish or other seafood.
Certain species will benefit from ocean acidification and others will be negatively impacted. Sea creatures with hard shells and larval fish are both negatively impacted, but algae and seagrass may benefit from the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean that cause ocean acidification. Algae and seagrass both photosynthesis using sunlight and carbon dioxide, therefore more readily available carbon dioxide will make this process more efficient and they will grow faster.
In general, living things are very susceptible to changes in pH level. While some species may thrive under the new conditions, the rapid rate of ocean acidification will not allow for species harmed sufficient time to adapt.
How does ocean acidification affect the economy?
Ocean acidification causes many problems that hurt the economy. Ocean acidification hurts fisheries; many fish and other sea creatures like scallops, clams, and crab are extremely sensitive. This will make it harder to get these foods which will cause fisheries to go out of business and effect prices for seafood. Both of these effects will harm the economy.
The tourist economy will also be negatively impacted. Travel destinations known for their beaches or coral reefs will not be as attractive to tourists as these natural wonders deteriorate.
What are some ways to prevent further ocean acidification?
The way to prevent further ocean acidification is by lowering the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This can be done on a personal level by using less energy, taking alternative, cleaner transportation instead of driving or implementing renewable energy sources like solar panels.
On a larger scale policies and plans can be implemented by the government to lower a state’s carbon dioxide emissions. These policies can enforce emission limits on companies and can create the framework for change.
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