Acid levels threaten ocean life

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

ocean CO2
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US measures ocean acid levels near coral reef areas with the Coral Reef Early Warning System station.

Scientists recently revealed that by the year 2100, ocean acid levels could increase by 170% and that 30% of ocean species would be unlikely to surviveHuman production of toxic carbon dioxide (or, CO2) pollution is the main cause of this dramatic increase.

The effect is already being felt in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. Because the frosty waters hold more CO2, increasing gas levels are turning them acidic more quickly. Sadly, by 2020, ten percent of the Arctic will be dangerous to species that build their shells from a material called calcium carbonate, and by 2100 the entire Arctic will be considered a hostile environment.

This is the fastest souring of the waters in the past 300 million years. Since the start of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s, when mankind began using more machines to create products and thus required increased amounts of fuel, the Earth’s pollution has grown very fast. Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso, from the French national research agency CNRS, says, “My colleagues have not found in the geological record, rates of change that are faster than the ones we see today.”

All it takes is a few species dying out, to create a very dangerous domino effect across the ocean. Gattuso explains, “In the Southern Ocean, we already see corrosion of pteropods which are like sea snails, in the ocean we see corrosion of the shell. They are a key component in the food chain, they are eaten by fish, birds and whales, so if one element is going then there is a cascading impact on the whole food chain.”

While there are some short-term solutions, like putting crushed limestone in waters to fight off the acid, it’s just too costly. Gattuso says that it’s “not really practical at a global scale” and that it’s “very expensive and energy intensive.” So, what’s the long-term answer? We need to cut back big time on our pollution levels and humanity must continue advancing alternative energy technology, like solar and wind power.

Featured image courtesy of Wolfgang Staudt on Wikipedia.