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Posted Fri Jul 2 2010: from The Economist:
The other carbon-dioxide problem
The declining pH does not actually make the waters acidic (they started off mildly alkaline). But it makes them more acidic, just as turning up the light makes a dark room brighter. Ocean acidification has further chemical implications: more hydrogen ions mean more bicarbonate ions, and fewer carbonate ions. Carbonate is what corals, the shells of shellfish and the outer layers of many photosynthesising plankton and other microbes are made of. If the level of carbonate ions falls too low the shells can dissolve or might never be made at all. There is evidence that the amount of carbonate in the shells of foraminifera, micro-plankton that are crucial to ocean ecology, has recently dropped by as much as a third.... In many places, natural variations in pH will be larger than long-term changes in its mean. This is not to say that such changes have no effect. If peak acidities rather than long-term averages are what matters most, natural variability could make things worse. But it does suggest that the effects will be far from uniform.... Studies of Australia's Great Barrier Reef show that levels of calcification are down, though it is not yet possible to say changes in chemistry are a reason for this. Current research comparing chemical data taken in the 1960s and 1970s with the situation today may clarify things.... Ocean ecosystems are beset by changes in nutrient levels due to run off near the coasts and by overfishing, which plays havoc with food webs nearly everywhere. And the effects of global warming need to be included, too. Surface waters are expected to form more stable layers as the oceans warm, which will affect the availability of nutrients and, it is increasingly feared, of oxygen.... Wherever you look, there is always another other problem.
[Read more stories about: ocean acidification, carbon emissions, coral bleaching]

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