Ocean acidification can increase concentrations of CO2 and advance climate change. Acid seawater puts fisheries and sea life at risk.
Humans have modified the environment to suit their needs, many times without regard for consequences. Many of those disregarded consequences can have a profound effect on humanity. Climate change is considered one of the most significant consequences of industrialization but ocean acidification may be just as important. Both phenomena have several things in common, especially how they could affect human survival.
The report “Ocean Acidification Summary for Policymakers 2009” generated by the 2008 The Ocean in a High CO2 World symposium (ocean-acidification.net, scheduled every four years), describes the state of affairs. This article concentrates on the effects of ocean acidification on humanity, the article “Ocean Acidification Risks Sea Life and Coral Reefs’ Survival” centres on the effects on nature.
Climate Change’s Impact on Ocean Acidification
Climate change has a great impact on the planet; reduction of the global temperature and greenhouse gases are human priorities but reduction of carbon dioxide emissions ought to be specially considered. Ocean acidification is independent of climate change: they simply share some aspects like carbon dioxide. Unlike climate change, the chemical changes of ocean acidification can be observed now and future changes can be well predicted. Unfortunately, techniques for combating climate change are useless against ocean acidification. Even mitigating techniques against greenhouse emissions won’t alter the current level of carbon dioxide in the oceans.
Ocean Acidification’s Effect on Humanity
Larval fish and shellfish are considered highly vulnerable to the acidification of oceans. Commercial fisheries as well as the shellfish industry may be affected, along with the food security of millions of people in the poorest regions. If ocean acidification destroys coral reef habitats it will affect tourism, shoreline protection, biodiversity and fisheries.
Oceans saturated with carbon dioxide are less capable of absorbing the gas from the atmosphere. The direct consequence is higher temperatures due to an increased amount of carbon dioxide. In spite of that, it is possible to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. In fact, the cost of stabilizing concentrations is lower than the cost of ignoring the problem and existing technology is capable of stabilizing concentrations.
The ocean carbon pump is a mechanism that enables the ocean to lock away carbon for extended periods of time. Hard shells of small ocean organisms sink with the carbon the organism has absorbed in its life. If the mechanism is taken as a service and prices in the carbon credit market are applied an estimation of the monetary cost of the ocean carbon pump can be inferred.
The carbon market price ranges from US $20 to $200 per tonne of carbon. This means that the ocean carbon pump represents a subsidy to the world economy of US $40 to $400 billion; which equates 0.1 to 1% of the Gross World Product. Acid seawater makes shells thinner and less able to absorb carbon. Also, because the oceans become saturated with carbon dioxide the pumping efficiency diminishes, with an estimated cost of billions of dollars.
Ocean Acidification Research
Research on ocean acidification is a new study field with most of the research papers published after 2004. Current research is unable to make significant projections of impacts or to identify thresholds that mark the limit of marine ecosystems ability to recover. There are few sites that provide the necessary chemical measurements and ecosystem input needed to effectively assess ocean acidification.
The majority of marine organisms studies examine a single species reaction to one environmental factor alone. Natural environments are affected by increased acidity, temperature and pollution to name a few. All factors should be taken into consideration to draw more accurate conclusions. In addition to this, long-term studies and selective breeding, as demonstrated by studies with oysters and crabs, help to infer species adaptability and survival.
Methods to mitigate the acidification of oceans have to be studied at a global scale due to the nature of the problem. This makes solutions in a short timescale unfeasible. It is necessary to understand all aspects of the solutions. Addition of alkaline substances to the ocean could fight acidification in specific areas and the reduction of environmental stresses and correct management of ocean resources are possible courses of action. Moreover, protection of marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs, is essential to maintain ocean biodiversity.
Ocean Acidification Can Destroy an Essential Resource
All species benefit from the services that the world and in particular the oceans provide. Humans are not an exception - nature allows for millions of dollars to be saved yearly. Any company would highly prioritize the protection of such a resource, unless the resource is nature. Nature is taken for granted, but nowadays that assumption can no longer be held. The collapse of sea life removes a valuable source of food and income. The implications of such a collapse can only be guessed at for now, yet one thing is sure: humans won’t be impervious.