Ocean acidification is a term used to describe the decrease in the pH levels of the ocean over a period of time, primarily due to the intake of excess amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Let’s understand how these decreased pH levels are proving disastrous for the oceans and marine life.
Did You Know?
Research suggests that four out of the five Great Mass Extinctions have been associated with ocean acidification. If left unchecked for long, ocean acidification could cause another Great Mass Extinction Event, due to the increase in the levels of atmospheric CO2.
The Earth’s atmosphere is not the only thing affected by the rising levels of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases; the oceans are also facing a serious threat due to pollution. In the last ten years, scientists have discovered that the excess levels of carbon dioxide are actually changing the entire chemistry of the ocean, and destroying various marine lifeforms. The oceans have been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and have been doing so since two centuries, or since the Industrial Revolution. However, the recent increase in the levels of CO2 has caused certain unwanted changes, which can prove extremely disastrous for marine life.
When carbon dioxide is absorbed by ocean water, it triggers a series of chemical reactions that increases the number of hydrogen ions. An increased number of hydrogen ions elevates the acidity levels of the water, and decreases the number of carbonate ions. Many marine animals survive on these ions for calcium carbonate, which plays an extremely important role in the formation of infinite marine species.
Impact of Ocean Acidification on Marine Life and Ecosystem
☛ Ocean acidification reduces calcium carbonate – a mineral through which the shells and skeletons of many shellfish and corals are formed. A reduction in the mineral slows the growth of these marine species, and also makes their shells weaker. If the acidification continues at this pace, it is predicted that the ocean’s pH level could fall by 2% by 2100.
☛ The shortage of calcium carbonate affects the microscopic algae that form the base of the marine food web. The algae uses calcium carbonate to build shells, which helps protect them from predators. A drop in the pH levels disrupts the ability of microscopic algae to build shells, and this can have disastrous effects on the food chain.
☛ Pteropods, or swimming sea snails, serve as a critical link of the marine food chain, being the main food source for whales and other predators. Pteropods will not be able to withstand the rising acidity levels and will eventually dissolve, making survival for larger creatures extremely difficult.
☛ Research shows that brittle stars, who act as important burrowers and as food items for flatfish, could face a severe population decline due to the rise in acidity. The adults might lose muscle mass while regenerating their arms, and most of the larvae won’t survive.
☛ It has been observed that ocean acidification slows down the growth of juvenile sea urchins, and provides them with thinner, smaller, and misshapen shells. Weak shells and abnormal growth may make sea urchins more vulnerable to predators, and even disrupt their mating process, by making the sperm of sea urchins swim more slowly, thereby reducing its chances of finding and fertilizing an egg.
☛ The fragile coral reefs are at an even greater risk than certain marine animals, as they need extremely high levels of calcium carbonate for their skeletons. The reefs also act as a home to various forms of marine life, and the rising acidity in the oceans can lead to their erosion and extinction, thereby threatening the existence of many other species.
☛ Ocean acidification is not bad news for all marine species, however, as some of them, like jellyfish and algae, will actually flourish with the rising carbon dioxide levels in the ocean water.
The only way to stop ocean acidification is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed in the ocean. A smart way to begin is to stop the dependency on fossil fuels, and switch to clean and renewable sources of energy.