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Category — Ocean acidification

Ocean Acidification: Another Failing Scare Story?

As projections of catastrophic climate changes are being beaten down by the far less than catastrophic actual climate response, other calamities that may result from our untoward use of fossil fuels are being offered up for our consideration. Besides the well-worn pitfalls of our failure to achieve energy independence, or to be the first to grasp green technologies, a new problem is being worked into the mix—ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification. Sounds bad doesn’t it. Much worse than say, “the oceans are becoming less basic” which is a more accurate, but less worrisome-sounding description. In either case, it is used to describe the situation in which the oceans absorb an increasing amount of carbon dioxide as the atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 increases. The dissolution of CO2 in the oceans has the net effect of increasing the hydrogen ion concentration which drives the ocean’s pH lower. The pH of the global oceans averages about 8.1 so it is considered a base rather than an acid (acids have pH values less than 7.0) and has perhaps dropped by 0.1pH units (a logarithmic scale) since the Industrial Revolution.

The reason we are being told that this is bad, is that it potentially disrupts some ocean ecosystems, primarily coral reefs and other calcifying organisms. The idea is that a lower pH interferes with the production of shells and/or causes the shells of some organisms to dissolve—leading to thinner, weaker defenses and other detrimental effects increasing the vulnerability of these organisms and jeopardizing the livelihood of other organisms that depend on them leading to a downward spiral of ever-increasing breadth.

Eager to bring this to the attention of the general public and shore up the public’s waning concerns about global warming (and rally them behind anti-greenhouse gas legislation), the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) produced a 21-minute movie titled “Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification” narrated by Sigourney Weaver. Here is taste of what is inside:

Carbon dioxide pollution is transforming the chemistry of the oceans, rapidly making the water more acidic. In decades, rising ocean acidity may challenge life on a scale that has not occurred for tens of millions of years. So we confront an urgent choice, to move beyond fossil fuels or to risk turning the ocean into a sea of weeds.

Scary scenario. But as with most good horror movies, the real world proves to be a much more benign locale. [Read more →]

January 6, 2010   11 Comments