By Aidan E. What if there was a universal issue, a crunch that covered 70 % of our planet’s surface, but remained nearly invisible. You would probably sit back and wonder, ponder and do your best to imagine. There could never be a clear and present danger that covered 70% of the earth’s surface without us humans doing something about it… could there? To the surprise of many, there is. It resides within all 332,519,000 cubic miles of water on our planet. Let me formally introduce you to ocean acidification. Many people are unaware of ocean acidification. Hence, a brief overview of what it is, what it does, and how it affects the world is in order.
Amongst the muddy streets, brick buildings and the smoke stacks of 1800 (the industrial revolution) horse-drawn carts were replaced by fossil fuel-powered machines, leading to an unprecedented burst of human industry and advancement. This advanced throughout the years and is still developing today. Despite the advantages and perquisites of production, engineering and commerce, it has its vices. Billions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases have been projected into Earth’s atmosphere over the years. Every time you drive your car, fly to another country or simply turn on a light, you may contribute to global warming. When these everyday actions are repeated over and over by millions of people, you can only imagine the global affect. The ocean then absorbs these greenhouse gasses. So if the ocean if absorbing the greenhouse gasses, what’s the issue? For tens of millions of years, the ocean has maintained a relatively stable acidity level. However, with today’s excessive CO2 emissions, it has changed drastically. Since the Industrial Revolution, the pH of the ocean has fallen by 0.1 pH units. Since the pH scale is logarithmic, this change represents approximately a 30% increase in acidity. Approximately, by end of this century, the ocean could nearly be 150 percent more acidic, resulting in a pH level that the ocean hasn’t experienced for more than 20 million years (NOAA).
Now this is a large amount of information to retain, but it is fundamental for the understanding of how ocean acidification affects marine life and we humans. In those terms, take a break before reading down to the next paragraph.
Did you take a break? It’s okay if didn’t. You were probably too captivated by ocean acidification and just HAD to keep reading. Prepare to be submerged in another atmosphere of facts regarding the two highest ranking issues within ocean acidification.
As previously stated above, the two overarching issues within ocean acidification are the dissipation of shelled marine animals and the altering of the marine food chain. When marine animals – shelled marine animals in particular, are exposed to higher percentages of acidic waters they are predominately affected. Their shells, exoskeletons or outer protection are slowly, but surely broken down over time. For example, the pteropod, or “sea butterfly”, is a marine animal about the size of a small pebble. Pteropods are eaten by marine organisms fluctuating in size from tiny krill to whales. The photos below show the devastating process of a pteropod’s shell when placed in sea water with pH and carbonate levels estimated for the year 2100 (NG).
Photo credit: David Liittschwager/National Geographic Stock.
This is a problem. This is important. This needs to be dealt with. It not only affects the animal, but compromises the food chain. When shelled animals unnaturally die off, their natural predators have a limited amount of food; ultimately affecting their food chain as well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there, but further hastens. It interchanges from the marine food chain to ours, will use our beloved pteropod for another example. The pteropod above is a major food source for North Pacific juvenile salmon. The North Pacific salmon is a highly fished salmon and eaten regularly by humans. Can you start to realize how the food chain gradually works its way up from the smallest of organisms to our dinner plate? The complication of humans not having enough food (sea food in particular) is not present right now, but if no action is taken to mend the instigating problem, it absolutely will be. We as humans, not only possess the ability to create problems, but the ability to fix problems. This is completely true. Thus, we have the ability; we have the recourses to restore this problem. However, it is not easy to sew a cut so large. Within all the doubt you may have, there are many things that can be done to not exactly prevent ocean acidification, but to repair it. Start off by realizing the issue, research it and dig further for facts. Cut down on your CO2 emissions, ride your bike, carpool or simply walk. Last but not least, spread the word. Talk to your friends, tell your parents and ask your teachers about ocean acidification. At the end of the day, it comes down to you. Whether or not you will sit down or stand up for what you believe is entirely in your hands. But remember, ocean acidification starts at the smallest of life and travels back to us; we the instigators.