Good source for ocean acidification information: http://news-oceanacidification-icc.org/

If CO2 emissions continue on current trends, this could result in the average pH of the surface oceans decreasing by 0.5 units below the level in pre-industrial times, by 2100. This is beyond the range of natural variability and represents a level probably not experienced for at least hundreds of thousands of years and possibly much longer (Caldeira & Wickett 2003). Critically, the rate of change is also at least 100 times higher than the maximum rate observed during this time period. These changes are so rapid that they will significantly reduce the buffering capacity of the natural processes that have moderated changes in ocean chemistry over most of geological time.

As human-induced emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) build up in the atmosphere, excess CO2 is dissolving into the oceans where it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid, lowering ocean pH levels (“acidification”) and threatening a number of marine ecosystems. Currently, the oceans absorbs about a quarter of the CO2 humans produce every year. Over the last 250 years, the oceans have absorbed 560 billion tons of CO2, increasing the acidity of surface waters by 30%.,, Although the average oceanic pH can vary on interglacial timescales, the current observed rate of change is roughly 50 times faster than known historical change., Regional factors such as coastal upwelling, changes in discharge rates from rivers and glaciers, sea ice loss, and urbanization have created “ocean acidification hotspots” where changes are occurring at even faster rates. The acidification of the oceans has already caused a suppression of carbonate ion concentrations that are critical for marine calcifying animals such as corals, zooplankton, and shellfish. Many of these animals form the foundation of the marine food web. Today, more than a billion people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein. Ocean acidification puts this important resource at risk. Observations have shown that the northeastern Pacific Ocean, including the Arctic and sub-Arctic seas, is particularly susceptible to significant shifts in pH and calcium carbonate saturation levels. Recent analyses show that large areas of the oceans along the U.S. west coast,, the Bering Sea, and the western Arctic Ocean, will become difficult for calcifying animals within the next 50 years. In particular, animals that form calcium carbonate shells, including corals, crabs, clams, oysters, and tiny free-swimming snails called pteropods, could be particularly vulnerable, especially during the larval stage.,,,

Pteropods, or “sea butterflies,” are eaten by a variety of marine species ranging from tiny krill to salmon to whales. The photos show what happens to a pteropod's shell in seawater that is too acidic. On the left is a shell from a live pteropod from a region in the Southern Ocean where acidity is not too high. The shell on the right is from a pteropod in a region where the water is more acidic. (Figure source: (left) Bednaršek et al. 2012e (right) Nina Bednaršek).

Direct observations of ocean chemistry have shown that the chemical balance of seawater has shifted to a more acidic state (lower pH) [Figure 7]. Some marine organisms (such as corals and some shellfish) have shells composed of calcium carbonate which dissolves more readily in acid. As the acidity of sea water increases, it becomes more difficult for them to form or maintain their shells.

Climate Facts

Acidification


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