Several environmental factors affect our oceans. The most significant, climate change and ocean acidification, go hand in hand. Since oceans cover roughly 70% of the Earth's surface, these two factors play a huge role in global climate changes.
Acidity levels in the ocean have been rising over the last few centuries. Due to these changes, marine ecosystems are being negatively affected and put at risk. If left unchecked, this will affect human food sources and continue to increase global warming.
To maintain marine ecosystems, global changes need to be made. Scientists are working to understand how climate change affects water's acid level. They're also looking for ways to increase the pH levels of ocean waters. As well as how to combat these high levels of acidity.
Here's everything you need to know about how climate change is affecting water's acid level and what we can do to combat this issue.
What is Climate Change?
Climate change involves a significant change in weather patterns and environmental conditions over an extended period of time. Many people use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” interchangeably. However, global warming is only one aspect of climate change.
As humans generate greenhouse gas emissions, there has been a huge impact on the global atmosphere, including increased carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane gasses. There are several contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, including crops, livestock, and deforestation. However, greenhouse gasses are primarily produced by our use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources and include natural gas, petroleum, coal, and oil.
With rising greenhouse gas emissions, the chemical byproducts cause the earth's temperature to rise. As global temperatures continue to rise, we will likely see an increase in natural disasters. Massive storms, heatwaves, droughts, floods, and wildfires are major concerns. They can cause physical damage to homes and the surrounding environments. They also jeopardize daily necessities such as safe drinking water and air quality.
Causes of Ocean Acidification
The main cause of rising acidity levels in the ocean is an increase in carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide appears naturally in the air as humans and animals breathe, and organisms decompose. It is also caused by fossil fuels, deforestation, pollution, and other human actions. There is currently more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there has been in the last 15 million years.
Seawater naturally absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, but since the beginning of the industrial era, over 525 billion tons have been absorbed. This translates to roughly 22 million tons of carbon dioxide per day. In the past decade, scientists have realized that when carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, the water's pH level drops. This makes the ocean more acidic.
The standard pH of seawater is 8.2, which is slightly alkaline. As the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide, the pH level is reduced. Studies have shown that the average pH of the ocean surface has dropped to 8.1. This translates to approximately a 30% increase in acidity. This level of change can affect many necessary physiological processes.
A rising area of concern is how global warming is affecting the Arctic ecosystem. As worldwide temperatures are rising, huge amounts of sea ice are thawing. As this ice thaws, it exposes a larger amount of ocean water to the atmosphere. This allows larger volumes of carbon dioxide to absorb into the water, which further increases acidification.
Additionally, as the Arctic ice melts, the cold waters will begin to flow through the rest of the ocean. This can disrupt deep-sea currents that move carbon dioxide concentrations in the water. When living organisms die, they begin to release carbon dioxide. When in the ocean, these organisms sink to the ocean floor. With cold Arctic waters disturbing and potentially stopping the normal currents, it can create unsafely concentrated carbon dioxide areas.
Effects of Ocean Acidification on Marine Life
Ocean acidification has been affecting marine organisms at varying levels for years. A pH change of even 0.1 can have drastically adverse effects on many organisms. This change can affect processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, and reproduction.
This process also affects calcification. Calcification is necessary for skeleton and shell building. Organisms such as corals, shellfish, and mollusks face some of the highest risks.
Since higher acidity levels can compromise development, this can cause defects during growth. This can affect human food sources, as well. With high acidity levels affecting shellfish and mollusks, they may become unsafe to eat if these effects continue. When an organism is negatively affected, this can put their existence at risk, disrupt the natural food chain, and impact entire ecosystems.
As Arctic ice melts, those ecosystems face a disproportionately greater shock than areas where the pH has been steadily rising. This is because cold water absorbs more carbon dioxide than warm seawater does. Since the Arctic ecosystems have remained fairly stable until recently, the water is facing a more drastic increase in acidity, giving wildlife in the area far less time to adapt.
How Can We Stop Acidification?
Harsh Restrictions on Corporations
Carbon pollution is the principal factor causing ocean acidification. Large corporations are the biggest sources of human pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. These corporations need to be held accountable for their actions. Continually working to find environmentally friendly practices. While it is unlikely that we can stop ocean acidification, we may slow the progression.
Increased Scientific Research
Studies on the use of seagrasses, kelp, and shell beds to combat acidification are being conducted. Scientists found that planting meadows of seagrasses by coral had positive results. Those corals were the only ones in the area that had healthy growth. All other corals nearby died of acidity, disease, and bleaching.
Scientists also tested the effect of seagrasses in areas with mollusks. They compared the results to mollusks observed in areas without seagrass. They found that those near the seagrass were the only ones that thrived. Since seagrass is a photosynthesizing plant, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the water to use as food. This lowered the local acidity enough to allow the mollusks to grow.
All humans need to understand that climate change affects the temperature of the atmosphere and the entire world's geographic features and ecosystems, and that includes bodies of water.
Based on several tests, scientists are working to farm and transplant kelp and seagrasses to help lower local areas of acidification. By raising awareness and researching the effects of climate change and acidification, we will have higher chances of finding ways to manage and reverse it.