Wednesday, November 19, 2014

40 Years of Research Reveals Ocean Acidification Data

Rates of ocean acidification ever 10 years since 1800 and projected through 2100. (Credit: Tobias Friedrich/University of Hawaii) Click to enlarge.
As carbon dioxide levels increase due largely to human emissions, the world’s oceans are becoming highly corrosive to a number of organisms that call it home.  But the rate of acidification and related changes are anything but uniform.  That’s why a new study aims to set a baseline for nearly every patch of saltwater from sea to acidifying sea so that future acidification and its impacts can be better monitored.

Taro Takahashi, a geochemist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who authored the new study in Marine Chemistry, said it has been a decades-long process to compile enough data about ocean acidification to effectively set a benchmark.

“Without the foundation measurements, we can’t talk about changes,” Takahashi said.  He likened it to the Keeling Curve, which has charted the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1957.

But while the baseline might be a jackpot for scientific research, it also shows that the changes taking place in the high seas could exact a heavy toll.  Human emissions of carbon dioxide are far and away the biggest driver of ocean acidification.  Oceans take up roughly a quarter of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities.  That might reduce the amount of heat building in the atmosphere, but it’s hardly good news as a series of chemistry processes turns it into acid that can destroy corals, dissolve shells and disrupt marine food webs.  Those impacts can, in turn, find their way on shore from lost revenue and jobs to decreased coastal protection from storm surges and high tides.

A recent United Nations’ estimate says that unchecked, ocean acidification could cost the globe $1 trillion annually by 2100.  In places such as the coastal waters off Washington state, ocean acidification is already eating away at the region’s oyster industry.

Takahashi’s study provides key information that could help improve the accuracy of future loss estimates as well as help plan for how to adapt to changes and reduce the economic toll.

Read More at 40 Years of Scratching Reveals Ocean Acidification Data

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