Thursday 27th October 2016                 Change text size:

Ocean acidification at fastest rate for 300 million years


Climate change is causing the oceans to acidify at an “unparalleled” rate and experts warn of the risks to marine life.

A new study published in Science, based on a workshop led by Columbia University and the University of Bristol, assessed a number of climate change events that have occurred in the planet’s history, to find out more about what could happen in the future.

The study found that the oceans are currently absorbing about a quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, which lowers the pH of the surface ocean in a process called acidification. As the amount of carbon dioxide rises, so does the rate at which it dissolves in seawater.

Left unchecked there will be an impact on marine life. Dr Daniela Schmidt, a Royal Society Research Fellow in Bristol University’s School of Earth Sciences, said, “Laboratory experiments can tell us about how individual marine organism react, but the geological record is a real time experiment involving the entire ocean.”

Recently, a UK scientist studied underwater volcanic vents that naturally acidify the water to predict a more acidic future ocean. Dr Jason Hall-Spencer told the BBC, “This CO2 is a stressor. Some organisms can adapt but there’re only a few species that can handle it. If I extend the gradient up to the year 2100 – that represents a 30% loss in biodiversity.”

Professor Andy Ridgwell, of Bristol University, said, “The geological record suggests that the current acidification is potentially unparalleled in at least the last 300 million years of Earth history, and raises the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change.

Although similarities exist, nothing in the last 300 million years parallels rates of future projections in terms of the disrupting of ocean carbonate chemistry – a consequence of the unprecedented rapidity of CO2 release currently taking place.”

There are several ways to cut down your own carbon emissions, for example, offsetting carbon from air travel—it’s a lot cheaper than you might thing. Do your bit to make a difference so that the planet can have a blue and green tomorrow.

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