The Ocean is our planet’s largest and most important body of water. It is the home of our planet’s life, and it provides oxygen to most of the earth’s population. The ocean also plays a crucial role in the climate, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and regulating the weather patterns on Earth.
How the Ocean Works
The ocean absorbs heat from the sun and transports it around the world. As it warms, some of that heat evaporates into the air and forms clouds. That cloudwater is then blown back to the sea by winds and rains. This water cycle creates our weather and provides fresh water to all living things on Earth. Without this process, most of our planet would be desert.
How the Ocean Acidifies
Our oceans are currently undergoing a natural change that is linked to human-induced climate change, known as ocean acidification. This is caused by the release of excess carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. The amount of CO2 in our atmosphere has been increasing since the industrial revolution, and it is now approaching 400 ppm.
This is causing the pH of our ocean waters to decrease, which can be very harmful for marine organisms that live in shelled habitats like coral reefs and kelp forests. As a result, these animals may be less able to build their skeletons.
Some marine species can adjust their behavior and geographic ranges to compensate for changes in sea temperature, and many are already doing so. Others, however, cannot adapt to the changing pH of their ocean environment.
One of the ways that oceans are changing is by reducing their ability to retain calcium, which is a vital mineral for shelled organisms. This is largely due to the fact that carbon dioxide in the ocean breaks down into hydrogen ions, which are more attracted to calcium ions than carbonate ions.
When calcium ions bond with hydrogen ions, they form bicarbonate ions (HCO3-), and this is what causes the acidification. It also impedes the ability of shelled creatures to extract the carbonate ions they need from bicarbonate to build their shells, which makes it harder for them to reproduce.
Another way that oceans are changing is by reducing the ability of plants and microbes to use calcium, which is a vital mineral for plant growth. This means that plants and microbes have to spend more energy breaking down calcium, which can affect their health and reproduction.
The ocean’s changing pH can also impact the ability of sea birds to fly, and it may also be limiting the sensitivity of some fish to predators and their sense of smell and hearing. This is why some areas of the ocean, such as off the western coast of Italy and in Papua New Guinea, have become “natural laboratories” for studying how ocean acidification will impact marine life.
As the ocean continues to change, it is more important than ever that we find ways to communicate and work together to protect this precious resource. To do so, we must strengthen the link between research and policymakers, as well as a variety of other stakeholders including society, the private sector, coastal communities, educators and NGOs. As a result, we will be able to produce the research that we need to make informed decisions about how best to protect our planet’s most important and most diverse ecosystem.