COLUMN: Acidic oceans slowly kill

2016-04-12 06:00

Pollution and the increase of CO2 levels have resulted in climate change which has had a drastic impact on the global ocean.

The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, decreasing the pH levels of the ocean, which results in the acidity of the ocean increasing. This problem is known as ocean acidification.

Acidification modifies the chemical composition of the ocean, lowering the level of calcium carbonate in the water. Calcium carbonate is important for some marine life as they use it for shell formation. Molluscs, such as limpets and barnacles, are prime examples this. The lack of calcium is affecting the growth rates and sizes of marine organisms.

An increase in carbon dioxide uptake also occurs in summer months in the Arctic Ocean as the ice melts, which allows the phytoplankton to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. When these phytoplankton die, they release more CO2 into the ocean. This results in many carbon sinks being found under the ice and results in even more CO2 being absorbed, increasing the ocean’s acidity and decreasing the pH levels.

Another consequence of the increased acidification is an increase in the anxiety of some of the fish. A study done on juvenile rockfish showed that they responded to areas of a fish tank that had increased levels of acidity. Rockfish exposed to acidified ocean conditions remained anxious even after one week of being placed in seawater with normal carbon dioxide levels.

Ocean acidification can become more of a problem in the future as marine life will grow smaller and smaller in size. Some of the marine species’ defensive mechanisms, like shells, would not be able to grow, which will leave them helpless to predators. It is important that scientists monitor the ocean acidification, do research into solving the problem and provide ways that individuals of the population can do in order to reduce the impact of ocean acidification.

This column was contributed by Michael Hart-Davis, a student of Marine Science. Email him at mhartd@gmail.com.


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