CO2 and the oceans

Every once in a while this comes up:

In the past five years, the fact that human-generated carbon emissions are making the ocean more acidic has become an urgent cause of concern to the fishing industry and scientists.

The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide we put in the air through fossil fuel burning, and this triggers a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen, thereby lowering the water’s pH.

The sea today is 30 percent more acidic than pre-industrial levels, which is creating corrosive water that is washing over America’s coasts. At the current rate of global worldwide carbon emissions, the ocean’s acidity could double by 2100.

As I noted back in 2008, this is another reason to care about all that extra carbon dioxide we’re throwing into the atmosphere–it’s having implications right now:

The decline in pH will likely disrupt the food web in many ways. It is making it  harder for some animals, such as tiny pteropods and corals, to form their shells out of calcium carbonate, while other creatures whose blood chemistry is altered become disoriented and lose their ability to evade predators.

a team of researchers led by Oregon State University professor George Waldbusser found that the pH in the lower part of the Chesapeake Bayis declining at a rate that’s three times faster than the open Pacific Ocean, partly because of increased nutrient runoff from farming and other activities. This stream of nutrients causes phytoplankton to take more carbon dioxide out of the upper Bay; as the plankton release CO2 as they move to the lower Bay, it increases carbon concentrations and lowers the overall pH.

A.J. Erskine, aquaculture manager for the Kinsale, Va.-based Bevans Oyster Co., and Cowart Seafood Corp. in Lottsburg, Va., said they started focusing on the issue when “two years ago we were seeing production losses, and we didn’t know where it was from.”

Oyster farmers off the coasts of Washington and Oregon were the first to see how ocean acidification threatened their business. Alan Barton, an employee at Oregon’s Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, suspected that lower pH waters were killing off oyster larvae, or spat. Working with Oregon State University and NOAA researchers, they were able to prove it was the case, and now time their intakes to ensure that their oysters are exposed to less-acidic water.

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