16 Mar 2016

Ocean Acidification – Danger to the Marine Lives and Ecosystems

ocean acidification is a danger to our world
Credit: The Photographer

What is Ocean Acidification ?

Ocean Acidification is the process of increasing of acidic contents in the water of our oceans. In more technical terms, it is the continuous reduction of pH of the oceans. It also means continuous rise of the number of H+ ions in the sea water.

The acidification is caused by the increasing percentage of Carbon die Oxide gas in the atmosphere. The level of CO2 gas is multiplied by modern human innovations like industries and cars. That is also the main factor behind the global warming.

CO2 gas is prone to dissolve in water. It is also heavier than other elements in air. So, the CO2 in the air tends to come closer to the surface level. As a result, it comes into contact with the sea water where it gets dissolved. Combination of the gas and water creates an acid named Carbonic Acid (H2CO3). The chemical equation of the reaction is given below:

CO2 + H2O = H2CO3

Impacts of Acidification of Oceans on Marine Life

Disruption of Calcium Cycle

Acidification harms shelled sea animals directly. Decreased pH of water is not good for the shells. These shells are made of Calcium which is a basic element. Calcium elements of the shells react with the free H+ ions of the acidic water. So, these become more brittle. So, the marine mollusks and other such creatures become more vulnerable to its predators and natural forces. That is why the ocean acidification is bad.

Weaker shells mean disaster to the Corals. The coral reefs are based on the combined strength of the calcium based shells of the coral colonies. The more acidic sea water results in corrosion of coral reefs and colonies. The process has already begun and it can ultimately result in disappearance of Coral reefs within some decades.

coral bleaching
Credit: Acropora
Many smaller creatures with shells find it difficult to collect calcium from more acidic ocean environments. So, the acidification can result in disruption of the calcium cycle of the marine ecosystems. If the smaller animals cannot get the calcium, the larger fishes and other predators will not get sufficient calcium for stronger skeletons. So, these fishes and marine mammals will also become weaker and so more vulnerable. So, we can see that the effect can be far reaching.

Physiological Problems

The acidification of sea waters can harm the sea animals in some other ways. One of the problems is the change in body fluid pH. In laymen terms, acidic sea water can make the blood of a shark or whale more acidic.

Acidification of body fluids can create serious problems for some of the sea animals. There metabolism and other physiological operations can be hampered for it. Some of these marine species will not be able to adjust with these and may become extinct soon.

Other Problems

The acidification of water is making it denser and warmer. The average increment of water temperature raised the metabolic rate of the sea animals. The increment of metabolic rate means these animals burn more energy per unit of time. So, they will need more food. But food source will remain the same before. So, many of such animals will not be able to survive in the long run. So, acidification of oceans can make many species of sea animals vanish from the world very soon,


Reduction of Carbon Emission

We all know the solution and it is simple: stop producing more carbon die oxide gas. But it is easier said than done. Carbon Emission is the direct product of our industries and we cannot curb it easily without hurting our economy. So, despite of global endeavors, the reduction of carbon emission will not happen in the near future. So, this solution is not at the reach of our hand.

Instead of stopping the activities which produces carbon die oxide, measures are being planned to innovate techniques which will reduce it without much economic loss. One such process is the invention of carbon negative fuels or zero carbon fuels.

Direct Methods

There are some direct methods proposed by leading scientists and environment protection experts to counter the menace of acidification. One such method is mixing special chemicals in water. The process is to mix some basic materials to counter balance the acidity. As a result, the pH of the sea water will remain at the same level.

But the system is not practical enough to fight the acidification at the global level. It will need so much money to implement it on all five oceans that is not possible to gather. There can also be some other unforeseen ecological harm by mixing these chemicals with sea water.

 Another proposed method is to mix iron with the sea water. Iron can cause phytoplankton blooms. These plankton need carbon die oxide for photosynthesis. So, adding iron as fertilizers can result in reduction of dissolved carbon die oxide of sea water. So, the process is quiet effective in reducing acid content of the water. But it is also a very costly process and needs vast resources to implement on a global scale.