American Oceans

What Is Ocean Acidification?

To put it simply, ocean acidification is essentially the reduction of the pH levels within the ocean, which occurs over an extended period of time.

The lower pH levels result in the ocean water becoming more acidic, hence the name acidification. 

Corals eroded by acid in the ocean

This is caused primarily by the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

But let’s try to explain it in a bit more depth. 

Approximately around 30% of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere is absorbed by seawater into the ocean, so the more carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere, the more carbon dioxide there will be in the ocean, and the more acidic the water will become. 

For the last 200 years or so, especially since the start of the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased at a faster rate, due to the burning of fossil fuels and the overall contamination of the modern world.

So in recent times, ocean acidification has increased at a rapid scale and has become more prominent than ever. 

If we look more into the science of what ocean acidification is, it can be described as a chemical reaction.

When the carbon dioxide is absorbed into the seawater, chemical reactions are triggered which produce a higher concentration of hydrogen ions.

These cause carbonate ions to be less abundant, and the seawater, therefore, turns more acidic. 

But is this bad? Well, sort of, yes. Carbonate ions are a very important building block of seashell and coral skeleton structures.

So fewer carbonate ions mean fewer building blocks for ocean life, and it means that oceans become a harsher environment for a lot of sea creatures and plants. 

But that isn’t all. The acidification of the ocean also affects non-calcifying organisms that don’t really need carbonate ions.

Some fish will struggle to detect predators when the water is more acidic, and this can lead to changes that eventually destabilize the ecosystem! 

So…ocean acidification is a pretty big problem, which is increasing day by day, and which is affecting all of the oceans of the world. 

Does pollution contribute to ocean acidification?

Colorful Corals on sea

Ocean acidification is primarily caused by the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is then partially absorbed into the sweater, affecting the pH levels and turning the oceans more acidic. 

Pollution contributes to this increase in carbon dioxide, so it is safe to say that it directly contributes to ocean acidification as a consequence. 

But what about pollution that isn’t carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere?

Say, for example, plastic pollution in the ocean, which is one of the biggest environmental problems in today’s day and age. Does that also contribute to ocean acidification? 

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Some new researches have discovered that the pollution caused by plastic waste dumped into the ocean correlates to ocean acidification, as it alters the water’s chemistry, it releases carbon dioxide into the seawater, and it, therefore, increases the acidic levels of the water. 

Pollution in the form of plastic waste dumped into the ocean also causes many other environmental problems.

It is a health hazard and risk to living marine creatures, and it also becomes a source of harmful bacteria and microorganisms that destabilize the entire ecosystem. 

What causes ocean acidification?

The main cause of ocean acidification is carbon dioxide. Out of all the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere, approximately 30% is absorbed by seawater into the oceans of the world.

The carbon dioxide then causes a chemical reaction that lowers the pH levels of the water, causing the ocean to become more acidic. 

Anything that causes an increase in the levels of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, in consequence also causes ocean acidification.

In today’s modern world, the biggest causes of this are the burning of fossil fuels and the human industry, as they release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Deforestation is also a cause that indirectly affects ocean acidification.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen in the process, so fewer trees mean that the planet has a lower capacity of absorbing carbon dioxide, leaving more to be absorbed by the oceans instead.

Not to mention that the burning or rotting of trees and plants themselves also releases extra carbon dioxide! 

There are some parts of the ocean in which acidification is caused by natural processes, such as hydrothermal vents which are underwater hot springs.

Acidification would occur naturally even if humans weren’t releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The problem is that the natural process of acidification would occur at a much slower pace, and nowadays it is occurring at an alarmingly fast rate that is unsustainable for ocean life. 

How does ocean acidification affect the atmosphere?

Ocean acidification doesn’t really affect the atmosphere, other than in the fact that the carbon dioxide that gets absorbed by the ocean and that leads to the ocean’s acidification isn’t ending up in the atmosphere. 

So we could say that ocean acidification relieves the atmosphere from 30% of the carbon dioxide that it receives, slightly decreasing the harm done to the atmosphere. 

But while it slightly reduces the harm done to the atmosphere, ocean acidification increases the harm done to the ocean by pollution and high levels of carbon dioxide.

It is a big threat to ocean and marine life, as well as ocean ecosystems, which are destabilized by the increase of acidic pH levels in the water. 

Which gas is involved in ocean acidification?

The gas that is involved in ocean acidification is carbon dioxide, as this is the main cause of ocean acidification in the first place, and it is the reason why the chemical reaction occurs. 

Carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the seawater, and it causes a chemical reaction that increases hydrogen ions and decreases the number of carbonate ions.

This leads to a reduction of the pH levels of the water, causing it to become more acidic. So carbon dioxide directly causes ocean acidification. 

The carbon dioxide involved in this process is the same carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere through pollution and contamination.

Things such as human industries, the burning of fossil fuels, and more, are what are currently releasing carbon dioxide in such high concentrations. 

Approximately 30% of this carbon dioxide is getting absorbed into the ocean by seawater, so it isn’t just the atmosphere that this is harming, but also the ocean through the process of ocean acidification. 

Carbon dioxide causes a significant problem with ocean acidification, as it affects all the oceans in the world, and it is very quickly becoming a risk and hazard to marine life and underwater ecosystems.

The only way to slow down the process of ocean acidification is to massively reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. 

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