Climate change is understandably most frequently linked to sea level rise and natural disasters by the media. What often falls by the wayside is that the oceans aren’t just expanding, but getting more acidic. In fact, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the seas of the world have become 26 percent more acidic.
As a result, oceanic life is taking a bit of a beating. A while back, it was thought that it would mostly affect creatures that are naturally sensitive to pH changes, such as animals with calcareous shells, infant aquatic creatures, and coral. As pointed out by an international team of scientists, all of ocean life will be detrimentally affected.
A comprehensive 8-year-long study on ocean acidification by the members of the German-led BIOACID project will summarize their findings in a brochure handed out to attendees at the upcoming climate summit, COP23, in Bonn.
Although the organisms expected to be vulnerable to a decreasing pH are probably worse off in the short term, the team are keen to point out that everything in the hydrosphere is dependent on other organisms for their survival. If a food chain begins to crumble because of this phenomenon, those that are more physically adapted to acidic waters may start to suffer.
“Even if an organism isn't directly harmed by acidification it may be affected indirectly through changes in its habitat or changes in the food web,” study lead author Professor Ulf Riebesell, from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, told BBC News.
“At the end of the day, these changes will affect the many services the ocean provides to us.”
Ocean, not the atmosphere, is the world’s most potent sink for carbon dioxide. Without them, the planet would have warmed 36°C (64.8°F) in the past century or so, not the 1°C (1.8°F) rise that actually took place.
Much of the carbon dioxide the waters absorb turns into carbonic acid, which in itself is fairly weak. We just happen to be producing so much carbon dioxide that the pH of the oceans has declined at an unprecedented tick, far more quickly that took place during the worst mass extinction in Earth’s entire history.
The BIOACID report, which represents an amalgamation of 350 separate studies on the topic, found that acidification impacts the lifespans of entire organisms, from birth to death. From the North Sea and the Arctic to the Pacific Ocean, life is being hit hard by the changing pH levels.
Although a few organisms, like blue-green algae, will benefit – after all, they use carbon dioxide as part of photosynthesis – the bottom line is that the oceans will be less biodiverse as a result of our penchant for fossil fuels.