Ocean Acidification

Industrial revolution in the last two centuries has completely changed the Earth’s environment. This can be attributed to, increase in the rate of deforestation, higher consumption of fossil fuels and incessant rise of emission levels that has led to higher concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. It has been well established that CO2 is responsible for global warming and its effect is well documented all over the world.

Research has shown that CO2 is also responsible for acidification of oceans. Oceans are good absorbers of CO2 as these are capable of absorbing 30 per cent of the CO2 released in the atmosphere.  As CO2 gets absorbed by sea water, series of chemical reactions take place which increase the concentration of hydrogen ions and make sea water more acidic and further cause decrease in carbon ions (NOAA, 2013). Such changes in the ocean chemistry is bound to cause deep impact to the variety of species in it. There are reports which suggest that higher levels of acidic conditions is going to affect the shelled species. Carbonate ion is an important building component of shelled species, such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, corals and calcareous planktons present in the sea water and it has been revealed that decrease in carbonate ion in the sea water can make these species vulnerable (NOAA, 2013). For example, “sea butterfly” (also known as pteropod) eaten by a variety of species like krill and whales, when placed by researchers in sea water with carbonate levels projected for the year 2100, found that their shells dissolved in just 45 days (NOAA, 2013). This study also found that pteropods in the Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica has already shown signs of dissolution of pteropod shells.

A study by Morley and Day (2013) has shown that chances of CO2 getting dissolved is more in cold water and hence all the species in colder water are at a greater risk with increased acidification of oceans in colder region.  They further state that calcium carbonate saturation is low in the Polar Regions and that shallow waters around Antarctica would be the first to face under saturation of carbonate ions. Another research published in Nature Climate Change has found that ocean acidification is spreading in terms of area and in depth at a rapid pace in the Western Arctic Ocean and is potentially affecting the food web as also the communities that depend on these resources. Between the years 1990 and 2010 acidified waters has been expanding northward 300 nautical miles towards the north western Alaska (Qi et al., 2017). Hancock et al. (2018) from a recent study, state “near-shore microbial communities are likely to change significantly near the end of this century if anthropogenic CO2 release continues unabated, with profound ramifications for near-shore Antarctic ecosystem food webs and biogeochemical cycling. Quoting, Wei- Jun Cai based at University of Delaware, a study by  NOAA (2017), “The Arctic Ocean is the first ocean where we see such a rapid and large-scale increase in acidification, at least twice as fast as that observed in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans,” Such a plightfull situation has made scientists to focus their research that could work towards finding a solution.

NOAA has initiated the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory with Marine research institute in Iceland to research more about high the latitude ocean acidification in the Atlantic Ocean. Further NOAA has installed moored buoys to research on the amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean environment in the north of Arctic Region (NOAA, 2013). Hence, such innovative research and high level of monitoring is a necessity to providing accurate data towards a solution which would be able to combat ocean acidification.