Since the industrial revolution, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased due to the burning of fossil fuels and land use changes. The ocean absorbs about 30% of the CO2 that is released in the atmosphere. As the levels of atmospheric CO2 increase, so do the levels in the ocean.
When CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, a series of chemical reactions occur, resulting in seawater becoming more acidic. Ocean acidification threatens calcifying organisms, such as clams and corals, as well as other marine animals, like fish. When these organisms are at risk, the entire marine ecosystem may also be at risk.
In fact, according to research recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, fossil evidence from 66 million years ago has revealed that ocean acidification can cause the mass extinction of marine life. Researchers analyzed seashells in sediment laid down shortly after a giant meteorite hit earth. This strike wiped out the dinosaurs and 75% of marine species. Chemical analysis of the shells revealed a sharp drop in the PH of the ocean over hundreds of years after the meteorite strike. The meteorite impact vaporized rocks, causing carbonic acid and sulphuric acid to rain down, acidifying the ocean. The strike also resulted in mass die-off of plants on land, increasing atmospheric CO2.
Researchers found that the pH dropped by 0.25 pH units in the 100 to 1,000 years after the meteorite strike. Alarmingly, scientists expect the pH of the ocean to drop by 0.4 pH units by 2100 if our carbon emissions continue as projected.
Photo, posted March 16, 2017, courtesy of Zachary Martin via Flickr.