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Ocean Acidification and Climate Change

Most of us have heard about global warming and what it is doing to our world, including our oceans. Global warming is simply a climate change. A slow and steady increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere, environment, and its oceans is believed to be permanently changing the earth’s climate.

Climate change involves rapidly changing temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns on huge scale. In addition, these changes cause an increase in concentrations of gases which trap heat in the atmosphere, often called greenhouse gases. The most commonly released gas is carbon dioxide.

The increase volumes of carbon dioxide and some other gases released by the burning of fuels, clearing lands, agriculture, and other human actions are believed to be the most important sources of global warming. This has occurred over the past fifty years.

Ocean acidification has destructive and harmful results to our earth’s underwater environment. The absorption of carbon dioxide by the earth’s oceans is increasing the acid levels, producing harmful and long-term destruction to our oceans’ coral reefs, which causes them to dissolve by reducing their calcification.

Changes in the earth’s ocean environment is not often seen or felt, so it is essential to discuss the importance of this process on the coral reefs and the dangerous effects of global warming. Coral reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystems of the oceans. Coral reefs are estimated to shelter around one-third of all marine species; about 500 million people rely on coral reefs for food, income, and medicine. Coral reefs also act as barriers during inclement weather.

Human activity is causing the earth to get warmer and warmer, especially by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, the clear cutting of forests. When we dig out and burn fossil fuels, like coal and petroleum, we cause the release of carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. Clearing of the forests also allows for large amounts of carbon dioxide to be released all over the entire world. The future of coral reefs is threatened by humans and natural disturbances.

Typical ocean pH levels vary due to the effect of the environment. When the pH of water falls below 5.0 or rises above 9.6, harmful actions become obvious. pH levels below 7.6 will cause coral reefs to dissolve as a result of the lack of calcium carbonate. Efforts to alleviate global warming and ocean acidification by reducing emissions have been unsuccessful. Scientists have become more interested in climate engineering to prevent the dangerous outcomes of climate change.

Artificial ocean alkalization is studied as a way to decrease local ocean acidification and to protect coral reefs ecosystems. Several readings focused on the possibility of changing ocean pH by increasing water alkalinity. In these studies, alkalizing agents, such as calcium carbonate or calcium hydroxide, were used to increase the oceans’ alkalinity and the potential of protecting coral reefs against ocean acidification. This approach is logical but doubtful because of the constant changes (variation) of carbon dioxide concentration from season to season, day to night, and the species’ variety and ability to adapt. Also, increasing the ocean’s surface pH stimulates an additional absorption of carbon dioxide.

In another study, a team of international scientists, including a Texas A&M University researcher, examined the Tree Reef, bordering the Australian coast. The team added sodium hydroxide to the water to reverse acidity and increase alkalinity of the water. With the increase of water pH, the reef grew quickly as a result of the experiment. Scientists concluded that it is possible to increase the growth of coral reefs if ocean acidification is reversed.

In addition, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, blowing tiny bubbles though seawater could remove carbon dioxide from the water and help offset (counteract) water acidification. However, installing bubbles anywhere where coral reefs are present is expensive.

The idea of increasing the alkalinity of ocean water to protect and preserve coral reefs is like turning back the clock hundreds of years. Back then, the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere was lower, and the oceans were much healthier. The best solution would be to stop emitting carbon dioxide and prevent ocean acidification.

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