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CEV worked with researchers at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory’s Carbon Program to create a series of scientific illustrations for ocean acidification and carbon processes.
Since the late industrial revolution the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has greatly increased. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was the huge increase in industrial and agricultural activities that caused the carbon dioxide boom. Today the biggest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions are electricity production and transportation. Which both are highly dependent on the burning of fossil fuels.
So what do carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions mean for our oceans? About a quarter of the carbon dioxide released each year is absorbed by the ocean. Meaning the more CO2 we put into the atmosphere the more of it ends up in the ocean. Once the dissolved in the ocean, the CO2 reacts with the water (H2O) forming carbonic acid (H2CO3). This carbonic acid the quickly dissolves to form an acid (H+ ion) and bicarbonate, (HCO3- ) which is a base. This is the process known as ocean acidification. Some reports show the ocean’s pH has dropped by 0.1 (lower pH means more acidity). This means roughly a 30% increase in ocean acidity.
The increased levels of carbon dioxide continues to be detrimental to the oceans health as the naturally occurring base carbonate ion (CO3−2) reacts with the H+ ion. This forms more bicarbonate. The depletion of the carbonate ion poses a major problem for some calcifying species like shellfish, shallow and deep water corals, and calcareous plankton. Without as much of the carbonate, the amounts of vital shell building minerals (calcium carbonates, aragonite and calcite) are also depleted.
Without the abundance of these minerals that calcifying species have evolved to depend on; crisis faces our oceans, and by extension, us. Calcareous plankton and creatures like pteropods are vital to the ocean’s food web. Coral reefs provide some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. And entire industries depend upon the harvesting of shellfish.
It is currently impossible to fully predict the consequences of the further acidification of the oceans. But as we add more CO2 to our atmosphere and our oceans, it is clear that those consequences will only become more devastating. It is vital that we take action for the sake of our oceans.
To find out more about ocean acidification and carbon processes in the ocean, visit the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory’s Carbon Program's website.