The Arctic turns acidic
North Pole seawater could become corrosive in 10 years, disrupting food chain.
Mon, Oct 05, 2009 at 02:40 PM
In the latest hit to the Arctic, researchers have found that seawater in many regions around the North Pole will likely become corrosive in as little as 10 years, according to the Guardian.
Lucky for us, oceans currently suck up an impressive one quarter of all carbon emissions released into the atmosphere by sources such as businesses and cars, totaling more than six million tons of carbon per day.
But all of this CO2 is taking a massive toll on the environment because once the carbon dissolves in the water it causes the oceans to become more acidic. This is especially bad news for marine life like mussels and other shellfish whose shells can be literally dissolved by the acid.
The recent research suggests some sobering numbers. By 2018, 10 percent of the ocean will be corrosively acidic; by 2050, 50 percent. Even worse, the researchers predict that 100 percent of the ocean will be corrosively acidic by 2100, less than a century away.
“This is extremely worrying,” says professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso of France's National Center for Scientific Research. “We knew that the seas were getting more acidic and this would disrupt the ability of shellfish – like mussels – to grow their shells. But now we realize the situation is much worse. The water will become so acidic it will actually dissolve the shells of living shellfish.”
Of course, the issue isn’t just that tiny shellfish will most likely be wiped out. In the great web of life, bigger species like the baleen whales, salmon, herring and a number of seabirds depend on shellfish for sustenance, so the disappearance of these little creatures could greatly impact the entire food web.
And though lately much focus has been given to geo-engineering schemes that will supposedly help mitigate global warming, these expensive and risky plans, which include ideas like using giant mirrors to reflect the sun, don’t solve the problem of increasing carbon emissions, so oceans will continue to be affected.
Gattuso puts it best:
“… these ideas miss the point. They will still allow carbon dioxide emissions to continue to increase – and thus the oceans to become more and more acidic. There is only one way to stop the devastation the oceans are now facing and that is to limit carbon dioxide emissions as a matter of urgency."
Gattuso, who spoke at an international oceanography conference last week, was echoed by other speakers who warned that biodiversity was being irrevocably threatened by a number of factors including increasing acidity levels, sea-level rises and temperature changes.
According to researcher Christoph Heinze of Bergen University, Norway, atmospheric carbon is being transported into the oceans' deeper waters faster than expected and is already having a corrosive effect on life forms there.
Though the new findings spell an even murkier future for oceans and the life that inhabits them, one silver lining is that the ocean’s vulnerability has sparked interest in the European Union’s Tara Ocean project, which will send researchers around the globe for three years to further the study of seawater life forms.
Says Chris Bowler, a marine biologist on Tara, “As much carbon dioxide is absorbed by plankton as is absorbed by tropical rain forests. Its health is therefore of crucial importance to us all.”