Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
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Marine Chemistry

Background

pteropodWhile concern over global warming from the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels is now widely recognized, the other side of the carbon dioxide emissions equation – ocean acidification via CO2 enrichment – has received far less attention. Anthropogenic CO2 only resides in the atmosphere temporarily. While some small fraction of the anthropogenic CO2 takes a brief detour through the terrestrial biosphere for about 40 years (on average) before being released back into the atmosphere by decay, about one-third of the CO2 emitted each year is quickly absorbed by the oceans. In the long run some 85% of all of mankind's CO2 emissions will be absorbed by gas exchange across the air-sea interface. This amount is established by the chemical capacity of the ocean and the total amount of fossil fuels burned. The annual rate of uptake is controlled by ocean mixing. There is no ambiguity here. The accumulation of fossil fuel CO2 in the upper ocean, and its penetration to the deep-sea in newly formed bottom waters, is plainly observable by ocean chemists. We have now “disposed” of about 530 billion tons of fossil fuel CO2 in the oceans, and the rate of invasion now exceeds 1 million tons of CO2 per hour. We are thereby acidifying the ocean and fundamentally changing the remarkably delicate geochemical balance. The consequences for life in the sea are only now beginning to be investigated, but comparable events in our geologic history have caused massive changes in ocean ecosystems, including widespread extinctions.


Ocean Acidification Activities | Back to top

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Ocean Acidification: Is There a Problem?

Students will utilize a guided WebQuest to research the possible future effects of ocean acidification, explore current models used to predict the changes in the ocean’s pH and discuss the current data collection for research.

Ocean Acidification in the news | Back to top

Yahoo! News: (07/09/12)
Science official: Ocean acidity major reef threat

Nature News: (06/29/12)
Global network will track acidifying oceans

Thinkprogress: (06/28/12)
Kardashians Get 40 Times More News Coverage Than Ocean Acidification

Arstechnica: (03/01/12)
Ocean acidification on track to be among the worst of the last 300 million years


Ocean Acidification Resources | Back to top


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Last updated: Jul. 09, 2012