Earth News Journal 38: Ocean Acidification

According to a report dispatched last November 15 – a week before the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw – ocean acidification is predicted to spell trouble for coastal communities around the globe.

The continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions, specifically carbon dioxide, is likely to contribute to severe aquatic ecosystem destruction within the coming century. The predicted acidity of the oceans in 2100 is expected to be a 170 percent increase from pre-industrial levels, according to the report from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research.

These precarious levels threaten coastal communities dependent on coral reefs and fishing for their survival. Coral reefs and shellfish may even cease to grow at the close of this century, if the acid composition of the ocean waters does not significantly change between now and the twenty-second century.

So what does carbon dioxide have to do with the oceans? As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to rise – from sources such as coal-burning power plants generating electricity, combustion from fossil-fuel-dependent transportation vehicles, and fossil fuel combustion in various international industries – a portion of the extra carbon is “absorbed by the oceans and converted into acidic compounds.” Smaller sea-residing organisms, including phytoplankton and seagrasses, will not necessarily suffer from acidic waters, but the other organisms (small/large fish, aquatic mammals, and crustaceans) will be immensely impacted by the water’s acidic composition.

“Changing oceans will cause massive destruction of coral reefs, which, with their biodiversity, are the jungles of the sea,” said Luis Valdes, the head of the IOC-UNESCO and co-author of the recent report on ocean acidification.

Unfortunately, because the oceans are a vast expanse that remain largely out-of-sight, the people safeguarding this gargantuan ecosystem have put it out-of-mind. Nonetheless, the marine world is “just as integral to human existence [but] receives little attention during climate negotiation’s.”  The atmosphere isn’t the only global component to be affected by a spike in carbon dioxide emissions – the oceans will suffer, too.

Reflection

The folly of mankind’s respect for the oceans does not reside in its neglect, but rather his incorrect projection of size vs. impact. Oceans cover approximately 70% of the Earth’s surface – a fairly significant portion of the Earth’s available habitat. Unfortunately, most humans lack the inclination to predict the effects of their combustion of non-renewable resources, for the size of the oceans is too incomprehensible. We drive our cars, produce our energy, and we think nothing of it. How is one trip to the supermarket going to kill the population of sea-turtles in the Atlantic, or destroy the coral reefs off the coast of Australia? It’s all about perspective. If every human subjected to this irresponsible by-stander effect, our skies would be stained with soot, and the ocean shores would be uninhabitable. As stewards of the Earth, we must act as caretakers and not looters – every single human being should take the health of the world to heart, if not for his sake but for the sake of the preceding generation. 

Piotrowski, Jan. “Ocean Acidification Set to Spiral out of Control.” SciDevNet. N.p., 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

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