By Emily Rose Nelson
Ocean acidification is a term commonly used in the world of marine science. This process can most easily be described as the lowering of oceanic pH due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. However, there is much more to this complicated process, which could mean great changes for the future of our oceans.
It is no surprise that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing. Since the industrial revolution atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased from 280 ppm to 396 ppm, and this number is expected to increase to 800 ppm by the year 2100. Unfortunately, much of this excess CO2 finds its way to the ocean, changing the natural chemistry of the water. When atmospheric CO2 is added to seawater a series of chemical reactions naturally occurs. The addition of excess CO2 shifts the equilibrium of this reaction series, resulting in increased hydrogen and lower carbonate concentrations. Because pH is equal to –log [H+] increased H+ concentrations have lowered the pH from pre-industrial 8.2 to a 7.8 (projected 2100). Carbonate is essential for calcifying organisms such as mussels, shrimp, some coral species, and more. Carbonate ions combine with calcium ions naturally found in seawater to form CaCO3, the skeletal material for many organisms. Lowered carbonate concentrations make it more difficult to form this compound, thus more difficult to calcify, and in some cases survive.