How Does Carbon Dioxide Affect Ph – Ocean acidification is often referred to as “the other carbon dioxide problem.” We are all rightly concerned about the effects of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on the climate, and the potential consequences of climate change are well documented: more frequent extreme weather events and higher global average temperatures, to name just two. Ocean acidification is relatively less common and, as such, sometimes misunderstood – but its effects can be just as severe.
Let’s start with the basics. Seawater is slightly alkaline. Carbon dioxide can dissolve in seawater, and at first glance this seems like a positive thing, as it reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, it can also cause ocean acidification, reducing the alkalinity of seawater, a process exacerbated by rising levels of human-produced carbon dioxide.
How Does Carbon Dioxide Affect Ph
Acidity and alkalinity can be measured on the pH scale. Even if you’re not a chemist by trade, you might remember this scale from chemistry class at school, but just to remind you that it measures acidity and alkalinity on a scale that ranges from 0 to 14 (although it’s worth (note that pH values outside this range are indeed possible). Under normal conditions, values below 7 are acidic and values above 7 are basic. Today’s seawater has a pH of 8.1, making it slightly alkaline.
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Acidity results from the presence of hydrogen ions in the solution where carbon dioxide enters. Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can dissolve and then react with seawater. The product of this reaction is carbonic acid, which quickly breaks down into its component ions: hydrogen ion and bicarbonate ion. The hydrogen ions produced in this process are responsible for ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification as a result of this process is a well-documented phenomenon; In fact, ocean pH has already declined since the pre-industrial era. In the early 19th century, the pH of seawater was about 8.2, so it has since decreased by 0.1 pH units to its current value of 8.1.
It’s easy to look at these numbers and think that scientists are making a mountain out of a molehill. 0.1 pH units sounds like a pretty minor change in the grand scheme of things. However, to fully understand what this means, you need to understand that the pH scale is a logarithmic scale. Simply put, this means that a drop of one pH unit will represent the hydrogen ion concentration multiplied by ten, and a drop of 0.1 pH unit in crappy sounds actually represents a 25% increase in hydrogen ion concentration.
This is from pre-industrial times, but since then humans have been increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and deforestation. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still increasing – just last year we passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more carbon dioxide available to dissolve in the oceans.
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Current projections show that the average pH of the ocean surface will drop to about 7.7 by 2100, a drop that would represent about a 150% increase in acidity over today’s levels. Suddenly the numbers involved don’t seem so small. Of course, this is only a projection; Although we probably won’t reduce emissions enough to completely halt the decline in ocean pH this century, actions to reduce emissions can still reduce the damage. On the other hand, the incoming US president believes that climate change is a Chinese hoax, so it remains to be seen whether significant steps will be taken to combat the problem and in turn ocean acidification.
You might be wondering what the problem is with ocean acidification. After all, even though the pH of the ocean is falling, it is still basic after that drop, and to become acidic (below pH 7, mind you) would require a huge amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – much more than is there now or there will even be 100 years in the future. It’s a concern that the pH drops, of course, but are there really any consequences?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The direct effects of ocean acidification may not be immediately felt by humans, but not surprisingly by the organisms that inhabit the ocean. And the effects on them can cause effects that also affect our lives.
One of the groups of animals most affected by ocean acidification will be calcifying organisms. These are animals such as oysters, clams and crabs that extract carbonate ions from seawater to form the calcium carbonate that makes up their shells. This is possible because calcium carbonate is saturated at the surface of ocean water, meaning that calcifying organisms are able to catalyze it as solid calcium carbonate under the right conditions.
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The problem lies in some other chemical processes through which carbonate ions can pass into seawater. They can bind with hydrogen ions, form bicarbonate ions, reduce the concentration of carbonate ions. In a way, this is good because it removes some hydrogen ions from the water, reducing some of the increased acidity created by the dissolved carbon dioxide. However, this is a problem for calcified organisms because if the water around them is not saturated with carbonate, the normally insoluble calcium carbonate that makes up their shells begins to dissolve.
Research shows that for many calcifying organisms, the rate of calcification will be reduced by lowering ocean pH levels. This is not universally true – some of the calcifying organisms have shown strangely increased levels of calcification under the same conditions, the reasons for which are still not entirely clear. Coral is also a calcifying organism and is also affected by ocean acidification, although estimates of its effect vary in the research literature. Clearly, a wide variety of organisms can be affected in unexpected ways.
The effects on crabs and oysters may not seem that significant from a human perspective. However, calcifying organisms are found at the base of several marine food webs. If ocean acidification affects populations of these organisms, it could have consequences further down the food chain, including fish species that are caught for food. A decline in the population of these fish will cause economic problems for commercial fisheries.
Not only calcifying organisms are affected. Many marine organisms use chemical signaling for a variety of reasons, be it predator detection, settlement or reproduction. Studies show that ocean acidification can cause chemical changes in the signaling molecules used, which in turn can affect their detection. It can change the behavior of some species and have other harmful effects.
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Many of those who deny that ocean acidification is a problem argue that the ocean has seen similar acidification in the past, albeit millions of years ago. They’re right to point that out – but it’s not true that it hasn’t caused problems in the past. In fact, ocean acidification was linked to Earth’s largest extinction event, 255 million years ago, during which nearly all marine species disappeared.
During the second stage of the Permian mass extinction, huge volcanic eruptions in Siberia released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Over 10,000 years, ocean pH levels dropped by 0.7 units, and while other factors likely played a role, this ocean acidification is believed to have played a significant role in helping to wipe out many marine species. This change has occurred over 10,000 years, while ocean pH can drop by 0.4 units in just 100 years—an unprecedented rate of change, and one that makes it unlikely that many organisms can properly adapt to the changes. Conditions.
The classic fallback for those who deny that ocean acidification is a problem is to state that “nature always balances out eventually.” Eventually, the complex chemical systems involved will find a new balance, but this balancing act takes tens of thousands of years—and there is no requirement that all ocean species, or even the human race, emerge unscathed on the other side. We know that ocean acidification is happening because the pH of the ocean surface has already dropped since pre-industrial times. What we need to do now is take action to mitigate it as much as possible.
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The graphics in this article are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives 4.0 International License. See website content usage guidelines. Oxygen and carbon dioxide participate in the same biological processes in the ocean, but in opposite ways;
Levels remain relatively low. In addition, organisms that use carbonate in their shells are common near the surface, further reducing the amount of dissolved CO
At depth, because cold bottom water contains more dissolved gases and high pressure increases solubility. Deep waters in the Pacific contain more CO
But the behavior of carbon dioxide in the ocean is more complex than the figure above suggests. When the CO
Marine Life And Ocean Acidity
The gas dissolves in the ocean, it interacts with the water
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