Burgeoning global populations and an increasing reliance on fossil fuels among the industrialized nations has lead to explosive levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and consequently in our oceans. There is no question that the effect this is having on the environment is dramatic and in many cases, extremely detrimental. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) program has conducted intense research on this issue:
“Fundamental changes in seawater chemistry are occurring throughout the world’s oceans. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) from humankind’s industrial and agricultural activities has increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs about a quarter of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere every year, so as atmospheric CO2 levels increase, so do the levels in the ocean. Initially, many scientists focused on the benefits of the ocean removing this greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. However, decades of ocean observations now show that there is also a downside — the CO2 absorbed by the ocean is changing the chemistry of the seawater, a process called OCEAN ACIDIFICATION.” (www.pmel.noaa.gov)
One of the most noticeable consequences of ocean acidification involves the process of calcification, which is important for shellfish growth and development. As the image below illustrates, rising CO2 levels and the resulting lowered pH impedes the process of shell formation, drastically altering the shape and function of many species. So what does this mean for our ocean’s over the long term? The Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute has also conducted extensive research on this topic, and notes that “Sensitive species could lose their protective shells and eventually die out, while other species that build stronger shells could become dominant in a future ocean that continues to absorb the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere caused by industrial emissions, deforestation, and other human activities.” You can learn more by navigating through the many WHOI resources available here.
Last week, the Gloucester Daily Times featured an article highlighting a new local effort underway to tackle this issue of ocean acidification. The article explains that lawmakers from New England have banded together in an effort to better approach and address this serious environmental issue:
“A group of state legislators from across New England want to form a multi-state pact to counter increasing ocean acidity along the East Coast, a problem they believe will endanger multi-million dollar fishing industries if left unchecked.
The legislators’ effort faces numerous hurdles: They are in the early stages of fostering cooperation between many layers of government as they hope to push for potentially expensive research and mitigation projects, and want to use state laws to tackle a problem scientists say is the product of global environmental trends.”
You can read the whole GDT article by clicking here.