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Ocean Acidification

If you feel like a nice, depressing read, pick up the July issue of Discover magazine. Yesterday I got to read about the Great Eastern Garbage patch, a plastic soup in the Pacific that covers an area 1.5 x the size of the US. But that is so yesterday. Today I got to read about Ocean Acidification and let me tell you, never mind the garbage patch. By the time we could clean it up, there isn't likely to be anything left in the ocean that minds the garbage anyway.

"Ocean Reflux" is about how our oceans are becoming more acidic. You may remember that experiment you did in high school chemistry class where you turned water into carbonic acid by pumping carbon dioxide into it? Well the oceans have been sucking up CO2 since the industrial revolution and in that time have become 30% more acidic. Prior to that, the PH level was constant for over 600,000 years.

Acidity may increase to as much as 150% the preindustrial level over the next century and a half.

The article mentions a similar event occurred about 55 million years ago. Although the cause is unknown, 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide was released over 1,000-10,000 years. The oceans' acidity increased, and the Earth's temperature shot up as much as 9 degrees and it took about 60,000 years to recover. We've released that much CO2 over the last 300 years. You better start saving up for that winter retreat in warm, sunny Canada.

It's all pretty unbelievable that we could change the acidity of the oceans. Unfortunately there isn't really much room for debate. Carbon Dioxide + Water = Carbonic Acid. That is basic chemistry. We know about how much water is on earth. We know what the PH level of the oceans has been for millions of years. We know what the PH level of the oceans is now. We know about how much CO2 has been produced and how much has been absorbed by the oceans.

On the bright side: if you're a polar bear, when the ice cap melts and you fall into the ocean, there won't be any sharks around to eat you, so if you swim far enough south, you might be able to fashion a raft out of some of garbage floating there.

Posted: 6/12/2008 8:27:00 AM by Ryan Miller | with 0 comments
Filed under: Environment