A Burning Ocean: But Not From Heat
Now I know you’re wondering, what do I mean when I say, “A Burning Ocean: But Not From Heat”. Well here I am talking about global warming and what I am going to say has nothing to do with heat. Heres my explanation: Acid. According to an article on PolicyMic, Earth’s Oceans have an average pH of 8.2. Now considering that this article was written on Monday that makes it pretty recent. Heres where things get kind of scary:
however, if the current rates of carbon dioxide emissions continue, it is predicted that the average pH of seawater will drop to 7.8 in the year 2100. The pH scale is logarithmic, so if the pH of a solution was to drop by 0.1, it would indicate the solution is 30% more acidic. Thus, if predictions are correct, surface seawaters will be 150% more acidic in 2100, when compared to current conditions. Seawater should be slightly alkaline to allow for the concentration of carbonate ions, which are required by many organisms to impregnate calcium carbonate into their body structures.
Just as a little background knowledge, pH is basically the measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. Take for example a lemon, it has a pH around 2, so that makes it pretty acidic. Purified water is about 7, which we call neutral because its in the middle of the scale. Borax, which is a household washing detergent has a pH of around 10, so that is kind of alkaline
Now that you have some basic knowledge on pH, the quote above might have a bit more significance to you. But the thought might arouse: A decrease of 0.1 on the pH scale doesn’t seem like much, does it? Simply, the answer to this question is yes, it is. Like our bodies, the earth has its own “homeostasis”, or an equilibrium of natural ups and downs. Alluding to our bodies even more, our equilibrium of average body temperature is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The Influenza virus tends to raise our body temperatures. In some cases, it raises our body temperatures to the point where it can be classified as hyperthermia, where the average body temperature raises to or above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Now with a few calculations, this is about a 6.1% increase in body temperature. Now another question that might be going through your mind is: 6.1% is much larger than 0.1%, is it not? And if you compare them to each other, then yes, it is, but you need to consider 2 things. One, the pH scale spans 14 numbers, even a small change in pH can be substantial. And two, that 6.1% increase in body temperature is the threshold to where things get serious, and by serious I mean medical emergency serious.
With that explanation in mind, that makes the quote above just a bit more frightening then it was before. But why does the pH of the oceans even matter, if they matter at all? Well here’s your answer:
Phytoplankton (microscopic algae that drift in the upper layers of the water column) harness the energy from the sun to convert water and carbon dioxide into sugars, which zooplankton (small and juvenile planktonic animals) and many other animals feed on. Encased by calcium carbonate scales, the coccolithophores are an important group of phytoplankton. However, it is thought that ocean acidification could affect the development of these life-forms, which could destabilise ocean food-webs. Corals could also be affected. Stony corals grow by depositing limestone skeletons, which eventually form reefs. However, because carbonic acid reacts with carbonate ions, it is thought that ocean acidification could impact the process by which corals deposit calcium carbonate, which could affect coral growth and reproduction, and the survival of many other organisms that depend on the reef system.
As elephant-sized as that seems, and considering the fact that at least a third of those words are 3 syllables or above, I’ll do my best to paraphrase. Basically it starts with the bottom of the food chain with these little plant like creatures called phytoplankton. Through a process called photosynthesis, they produce sugars that other, larger plankton eat. And those larger plankton are eaten by larger organisms and so on. But if the waters become more acidic then they are now, that balance would be disrupted, and the substance that is essential to the survival of phytoplankton dissolves, therefore; slowly eradicating the species. This means that the food chain would be being destroyed from the bottom up. When one species doesn’t have food they die out. And when one species dies out then a number of species above it on the food chain die out, and so on.
This change in acidity doesn’t only affect phytoplankton, but it also affects coral reefs. The main substance that makes up coral relies on a constant pH of the ocean, and when thats gone, coral reefs start to disappear. Need I mention that coral reefs are a huge part of marine ecology? They house multiple species of fish and other aquatic animals. Not only do they make great homes, but they prevent vicious waves from crashing onto the sea shore, reducing the magnitude of freak waves and tsunamis.
Maybe now you’re thinking, why should I care about what happens to the marine wildlife? Well let me just tell it to you straight forward. There are more species of aquatic animals than all of the land animals (not including insects) combined. They make up a big part of our lives. Many seafaring economies are dependent on fishing in for their own welfare and vegetarians are dependent on fish and their oils for supplementary reasons. All in all not just animals, but humans as well depend on marine animals.
Now if you are like me, you now realize how serious this matter is. If we keep emitting carbon dioxide at the rate we are now, slowly, but surely, we will dwindle the marine wildlife to a little nub. To be honest there would actually be a couple animals that will survive the change in pH and a few that will actually benefit, but both of them combined compare nowhere near to the amount of damage that would be done to the oceans and in a broader sense the world. Just one more reason that anthropogenic global warming is an issue. It may not be the most dominant form of global warming, but it shouldn’t be overlooked nonetheless.