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.


12 responses to “A Burning Ocean: But Not From Heat”

  1. vickyz0017 says :

    Wow, we’re basically causing the extinction of marine life, slowly but surely. But what change can we make (from the position we’re in right now)? pH is a bit of a tricky subject. I just looked it up, and I still don’t really understand… This is such a great article. Good job!

  2. benb0017 says :

    That is a very interesting and compelling argument, but I do not believe that you ever said what is the direct cause of this rise in pH. I do agree with the fact that the marine life is vital to the economy and the food chain, but I am still skeptical of the fact that this is somehow caused by global warming.

  3. omarim0017 says :

    Vickyz, to answer your question I can honestly say I really have no good solution. I mean there are so many things that we could possibly do to help slow down our carbon emissions, such as being more “green” or investing in some sort of technology that may somehow turn carbon dioxide into mechanical energy and whatnot. And you’re right, pH is a bit of a tricky subject. In a nutshell, pH is just the measure of how acidic or basic (alkaline) something is. The pH scale spans from 0-14, 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic or alkaline. Assuming that you’ve seen some of the sources I have, they’re probably telling you that an acid is a substance that reacts with a base and vice versa, which is totally true, but to give you a more modern example: HCl (hydrochloric acid) is one of the more well known acids and basically the way most people can describe it is if you get the stuff on your skin, your skin will burn. Again, I’m not too sure if thats the best way to describe it but thats my basic understanding of it.

    Now as for you Benb, thank you for pointing out one of the weak points in my post, I will gladly fill the gap for you. Basically the correlation between global warming and the decrease in pH (the article says its becoming more acidic, lowering from an 8.2 to 7.8) is what happens when the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide. Naturally, when the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, the ocean becomes more acidic because of the formation of carbonic acid. Now since there is an increase in carbon dioxide (doesn’t matter if its anthropogenic or not, although its said that this effect of global warming is anthropogenic), the ocean exits its normal range of pH. Hope that helps!

  4. brannona0017 says :

    I just wrote about the affect of the gulf oil spill on the economy. If the marine life is killed off many people will be in dire situations. Great article.

    • omarim0017 says :

      Thank you for your comment. And you’re absolutely right, and what you saw were just the economic impacts of the gulf spill. Think about the majority of the world. All the produce that would be lost. Its really hard to think of a world without fish, they’re just such an important piece of the ecosystem and the economy as well.

    • chelsear0017 says :

      I agree with you Brannon. Many people who live around the Gulf area like Louisiana, make a living off of fishing. If there was another big oil spill, then we could all be in grave danger

  5. forrestm0017 says :

    This article is extremely interesting (although hard to get all the way through without reading into the next day), and it is very well written also. Everything in this article comes together very well to make the post better and more interesting. Very good article!

    • omarim0017 says :

      Thank you for your comment forrestm! Glad you enjoyed my post!

      • Edward Holliday says :

        Omari I think that what you have written is a great piece of work. The only thing that I would say is the fact of backing up Mr.Meyer in class when he said that you should try not to make it as long. (if I’m not mistaken) I think that the fact that you talked about a little bit of a different topic then we did in class is very great. Great piece of work and I can’t wait to see your next one.

  6. johnsmith0910 says :

    I think that your point is interesting and should be given more attention. All I have heard on the news is that we are going to die because the glaciers are melting. I never considered that there would be other impacts of global warming, not just the glaciers melting.

    • omarim0017 says :

      Johnsmith, I totally agree with your point. Everyone is all worried about Arctic Ice and whatnot that they come to believe that its the only part of global warming, when it really isn’t. There is so much more to it and if I think that the general public was aware of that then a lot more would be done about global warming.

  7. abbyt7 says :

    This was a great piece of work. I really liked your article. It was very interesting. I didn’t know that Coral Reefs affected Global Warming. That is really cool.

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