Climate change isn’t the only consequence of carbon pollution from fossil fuels. If driving global temperature rise wasn’t enough, increased carbon in our atmosphere is also behind the rapid acidification of our world’s oceans.
But what exactly is ocean acidification? And what does it mean for marine ecosystems and for humans? The answers can be complicated. But before we get into the details, here are some quick facts that show why ocean acidification is a really big deal for our planet – and why we need to keep dirty fossils in the ground:
Ninety-seven percent of the Earth’s water is in the ocean. And the ocean covers more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, oceans have absorbed an estimated 525 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The Great Barrier Reef is bleaching rapidly due to climate change and ocean acidification, with only 7 percent of the reef unaffected by the most recent mass bleaching event.
SO, EXACTLY WHAT IS OCEAN ACIDIFICATION?
Our oceans are an incredible carbon sink — they absorb about 25 percent of the carbon dioxide humans produce every year. But this is changing sea surface chemistry dramatically: when carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, it dissolves to form carbonic acid. The result, not surprisingly, is that the ocean becomes more acidic, upsetting the delicate pH balance that millions and millions of organisms rely on.
Since the Industrial Revolution, our seas have become about 30 percent more acidic, a rate not observed in 300 million years. This has a wide range of consequences for marine ecosystems, as well as for the billions of people who depend on the ocean for food and survival.
OCEAN ACIDIFICATION IS OFTEN CALLED GLOBAL WARMING’S EVIL TWIN.
Oceans becoming more acidic after the Industrial Revolution is no accident. As humans burn more and more fossil fuels, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere continues to rise, driving climate change and making both air and sea temperatures hotter and hotter.
But climate change isn’t the only consequence of carbon pollution — so is ocean acidification. With more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, oceans absorb more and more of it, becoming – you guessed it – more and more acidic. This is happening at an unprecedented rate and will continue unabated if we don’t stop burning dirty fossil fuels.
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