Emissions of CO2 driving rapid oceans ‘acid trip’

The world’s oceans are becoming acidic at an “unprecedented rate” and may be souring more rapidly than at any time in the past 300 million years.

In their strongest statement yet on this issue, scientists say acidification could increase by 170% by 2100.

They say that some 30% of ocean species are unlikely to survive in these conditions.

The researchers conclude that human emissions of CO2 are clearly to blame.

The study will be presented at global climate talks in Poland next week.

In 2012, over 500 of the world’s leading experts on ocean acidification gathered in California. Led by the International Biosphere-Geosphere Programme, a review of the state of the science has now been published.

Pickled waters
The addition of so much carbon has altered the chemistry of the waters.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, the waters have become 26% more acidic.

“This is the state of the art,” said Prof Jean-Pierre Gattuso, from CNRS, the French national research agency.

“My colleagues have not found in the geological record, rates of change that are faster than the ones we see today.”

What worries the scientists is the potential impact on many ocean species including corals.

Studies carried out at deep sea vents where the waters are naturally acidic thanks to CO2, indicate that around 30% of the ocean’s biodiversity may be lost by the end of this century.

These vents may be a “window on the future” according to the researchers.

“You don’t find a mollusc at the pH level expected for 2100, this is really quite a stunning fact,” said Prof Gattuso.

“It’s an imperfect window, only the ocean’s acidity is increasing at these sites, they don’t reflect the warming we will see this century.

“If you combine the two, it could be even more dramatic than what we see at CO2 vents.”

The effect of acidity is currently being felt most profoundly felt in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. These chilly waters hold more CO2 and increasing levels of the gas are turning them acidic more rapidly than the rest of the world.

The more acidic they become, the more damaging they are to the shells and skeletons of marine organisms.

The researchers say that by 2020, ten percent of the Arctic will be inhospitable to species that build their shells from calcium carbonate. By 2100 the entire Arctic will be a hostile environment.

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Dan Mullin is an active writer and editor for the Pluto Daily who covered the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Mullin attended the Wake Forest School of Medicine before leaving to pursue his lifelong science goal of allowing humans to live forever via a computer/brain transfer.