How Acidic Oceans Affect Marine Ecosystems

Marine ecosystems are being effected drastically by acidic oceans. The food webs that were established are getting destroyed as many species can’t survive in their habitat and die off. For example there is a tiny animal in the ocean called pteropods. These animals serve as food for some of the oceans top predators, and since they are dying off this will affect the marine life massively because the food web will be destroyed and populations will fluctuate causing an uneven number of predators and prey. Other animals that produce shells or exoskeletons can’t produce them anymore and won’t be able to defend themselves from predators because of the acid. Animals that do important things in the ocean like urchins that help restore coral reefs are beginning to die off. Without coral reefs, many marine animals won’t be able to find protection for themselves and be vulnerable to predators. Another example is squids, squids require high oxygen levels and with the acidity in the water, the squids can’t always get enough oxygen and it messes with their blood flow. Squids are one of the oldest animals that live in the oceans and if they can’t survive, that’s one of the most unique animals gone. The changes are happening to quickly for these animals to adapt to. If the pH levels don’t start balancing out soon, there will be no life in the ocean and our Earth will be 70% water and there will still be oceans but those oceans will be without life.

How an Ocean becomes Acidic

In this model we can see a factory emitting carbon gasses.  The burning of the fossil fuels produces a gas called carbon dioxide which is released into the  atmosphere. The oceans absorb about 26% of this gas to achieve equilibrium and this is causing the oceans pH levels to change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) combined with water (H2O) changes the composition of the water, causing H2CO3 which is carbonic acid (National Resource Council). This acid is causing the ocean ecosystems to change with it. This carbonic acid is changing an animals way of making shells. There are animals known as cephalopods that have external shells and the carbonic acid has an effect on them like radiation has on humans, they can’t make their shells properly and without them, they can’t protect themselves.

Acid Level Graph

picture-15(Friedland, 2010)

This graph shows the pH level of the oceans over million of years. pH is the scale used to measure whether a solution is acidic or basic. The graph above is exhibiting how the ocean’s pH levels have change over the recent centuries. In the recent years, the pH level has decreased from being basic to being more acidic. The pH level in the 1800’s were about 8.2 and now they have decreased to be 8.1 due to the mass burning of fossil fuels. This has caused scientist to classify it as acidic. They are predicting the pH levels will be 7.7  in the future which shall be harmful to our ecosystem.

The levels have been rising

The beginning of the Industrial revolution marked the overall start of ocean acidification. During this time there was a lot of carbon being released into the atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution the oceans acid level has risen by 26%. According to Monroe “studies have shown the 26% of the carbon is absorbed by the ocean, the other ones being atmosphere 46% and land 28% “(2013).  The current acid level in the ocean is 8.1, previously it was 8.2. Figures released at UN talks in November 2013 say that by the end of the century  the worlds oceans will be 170% more acidic than they were in pre-industrial times,(Collins, 2013)