Ocean Acidification Essay

1194 words - 5 pages

OCEAN ACIDIFICATION- ESSAYTHURSDAY, JANUARY 24TH, 2012Covering more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface, the ocean is one of planet Earth's most distinguishing characteristics. Over recent years, human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels have increased the amount of carbon dioxide gas emitted to the atmosphere and the amount that dissolves into the ocean. Now, so much carbon dioxide has been absorbed by the ocean that the chemistry of seawater is changing, causing the ocean to become more acidic.THE CARBON CYCLECarbon dioxide is a critical part of Earth's atmosphere; it traps heat and prevents the Earth from being covered in ice. Normally, the Earth's carbon cycle maintains a natural balance of carbon in the atmosphere, land, and ocean through the "breathing of the planet". However, since the beginning of the industrial era, emissions of carbon dioxide have climbed, and now are exceeding the capacity of the carbon cycle to maintain equilibrium between the atmosphere and ocean. Excess carbon dioxide traps more heat in the atmosphere, which changes the Earth's climate.Not all of the excess carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that one-third of all the carbon dioxide produced by human activities has been absorbed by the ocean. The ocean's removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has undoubtedly helped curb the extent of climate change-but this benefit has come at a cost. The absorption of carbon dioxide is fundamentally changing the chemistry of the ocean by triggering reactions that make seawater more acidic, a phenomenon called ocean acidification. In fact, the ocean has become nearly 30 percent more acidic than it was at the beginning of the industrial era-a change larger and more rapid than seen in the fossil record going back at least 800,000 years.THE CHEMISTRY OF OCEAN ACIDIFICAT IONAtmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, where it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid (H2CO3). Almost immediately, carbonic acid dissociates to form bicarbonate ions (HCO3) and hydrogen ions (H+). As the concentration of hydrogen ions increases, the water becomes more acidic.Some of the extra hydrogen ions react with carbonate ions (CO3 2- ) to form more bicarbonate. This makes carbonate ions less abundant-a problem for many marine species that absorb carbonate from seawater and use it to build calcium carbonate shells and skeletons in a process called calcification.As carbonate becomes less abundant, these organisms, such as corals and clams, have more difficulty building and maintaining their shells and skeletons. Increased acidity can even cause some carbonate shells and skeletons to dissolve.WHY CARBON DIOXIDE MAKES SEAWATER MORE ACIDICScientists use pH-a measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions using a logarithmic scale-as an indicator of the acidity of a solution. As the hydrogen ion concentration increases, a solution becomes more acidic and its pH decreases. Because the scale is logarithmic,...

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