Leaving Our Geological Mark

The warming climate may earn carbon dioxide all the headlines (including ones about senators who can’t tell the difference between a couple blizzards and a 130-year climate record), but the gas is having another effect that’s less familiar but no less devastating. Some of the carbon dioxide we pump into the air gets sucked into the ocean, where it lowers the pH of seawater. We’ve already dropped the pH of the ocean measurably, and as we burn more fossil fuels we will drop it more. Ocean acidification has the potential to wreak world-wide havoc on marine life.

Today in Yale Environment 360, I write about scientists comparing today’s ocean acidification to the last time something comparable happened–55 million years ago. Short answer: today’s is big. Really, really big. Check it out.

0 thoughts on “Leaving Our Geological Mark

  1. Just a small point. Decreasing pH is not equivalent to increasing acidity. Acidity is typically defined as negative alkalinity. CO2 absorption into the ocean does not change alkalinity. It does, in fact, lower pH (with profound consequences), but acidification viz a viz CO2 is a misnomer.

    [CZ: Fair enough, but bear in mind that all the papers on this topic use the phrase “ocean acidification.”]

  2. No chance of aquatic life being to adapt to the lower pH, eh?

    [CZ: That’s a good question, actually. There are some studies on organisms that live in naturally low-pH habitats, and they show adaptations to the environment not seen elsewhere. But it’s not clear that other species could adapt in a matter of decades to the current change in pH in the ocean, which is the timescale that matters for survival. And the fossil record indicates some big extinctions in connection with ocean acidity, so that doesn’t bode well either.]

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