New data, published in the journal Geophysica
Creative Commons: Jim Maragos, USFWS Pacific
It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist. The threat is rather to life itself. – Rachel Carson
In addition to warming temperatures, the increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has another important effect on the oceans, everything that lives in them, and everyone who depends upon them. As the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the air, the chemistry of the water is altered, acidifying the oceans.
Ocean waters are now 30% more acidic than they were before human activities began adding excess carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As this acidification continues, less calcium carbonate becomes available to living things in the ocean that form shells or skeletons from calcium carbonate. This poses a threat to shellfish, corals, and plankton species that form the base of important marine food chains.
The full implications of such extreme changes in ocean ecosystems are not yet clear, but there is now evidence from some ocean basins, such as the Pacific Ocean along the Northwest coast of United States, that the effects of acidification are already apparent.
- Oceans cover 71% of our planet’s surface and make up 95% of all the space available to life. [WWF]
- Oceans produce 70% of our oxygen, absorb heat and re-distribute it around the world, and dominate the world’s weather systems. [WWF]
- With as many as 100 million species – from the largest animal that has ever lived on Earth, the blue whale, to the tiniest bacteria – marine biodiversity far outweighs that on land. And new species are being discovered all the time. [WWF]
- The world lost about 16% of all coral reefs in 1998, the second hottest year on record. [National Wildlife Federation]
- About 45 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities in the last 50 years is now stored in the oceans and vegetation. [Global Change]
- The top ten feet of the ocean hold as much heat as the entire atmosphere. [Save the Sea]
- “Warming of the oceans and increased uptake of CO2 is of increasing concern for the marine environment. The loss of biodiversity due to upper ocean warming, ocean acidification and ocean de-oxygenation will add dramatically to the existing threats of overfishing and marine pollution.” –Martin Visbeck
- “If carbon dioxide emissions continue along current trends, within a few decades there will be no water left anywhere in the ocean with the kind of chemistry that has supported coral growth over the past thousands and even millions of years. CO2 threatens the survival of coral reefs everywhere. If we’re lucky, we’ll lose just coral reefs and maybe a few other things. If we’re unlucky, we might see a wholesale shake-up of marine ecosystems across the board.” –Ken Caldeira
Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll Nationa
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Coral reefs, Egypt Creative Commons: Ronald E
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