Carbon Dioxide - in The Oceans

In The Oceans

Carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean to form carbonic acid (H2CO3), bicarbonate (HCO3-) and carbonate (CO32-), and there is about fifty times as much carbon dissolved in the sea water of the oceans as exists in the atmosphere. The oceans act as an enormous carbon sink, and have taken up about a third of CO2 emitted by human activity.

As the concentration of carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, the increased uptake of carbon dioxide into the oceans is causing a measurable decrease in the pH of the oceans which is referred to as ocean acidification. Although the natural absorption of CO2 by the world's oceans helps mitigate the climatic effects of anthropogenic emissions of CO2, it also results in a decrease in the pH of the oceans. This reduction in pH impacts the biological systems in the oceans, primarily oceanic calcifying organisms. These impacts span the food chain from autotrophs to heterotrophs and include organisms such as coccolithophores, corals, foraminifera, echinoderms, crustaceans and molluscs. Under normal conditions, calcite and aragonite are stable in surface waters since the carbonate ion is at supersaturating concentrations. However, as ocean pH falls, so does the concentration of this ion, and when carbonate becomes undersaturated, structures made of calcium carbonate are vulnerable to dissolution. Even if there is no change in the rate of calcification, therefore, the rate of dissolution of calcareous material increases.

Research has already found that corals, coccolithophore algae, coralline algae, foraminifera, shellfish and pteropods experience reduced calcification or enhanced dissolution when exposed to elevated CO2.

Gas solubility decreases as the temperature of water increases (except when both pressure exceeds 300 bar and temperature exceeds 393 K, only found near deep geothermal vents) and therefore the rate of uptake from the atmosphere decreases as ocean temperatures rise.

Most of the CO2 taken up by the ocean, which is about 30% of the total released into the atmosphere, forms carbonic acid in equilibrium with bicarbonate. Some of these chemical species are consumed by photosynthestic organisms, that remove carbon from the cycle. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere has led to decreasing alkalinity of seawater, and there is concern that this may adversely affect organisms living in the water. In particular, with decreasing alkalinity, the availability of carbonates for forming shells decreases, although there's evidence of increased shell production by certain species under increased CO2 content.

NOAA states in their May 2008 "State of the science fact sheet for ocean acidification" that:
"The oceans have absorbed about 50% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the burning of fossil fuels, resulting in chemical reactions that lower ocean pH. This has caused an increase in hydrogen ion (acidity) of about 30% since the start of the industrial age through a process known as “ocean acidification.” A growing number of studies have demonstrated adverse impacts on marine organisms, including:

  • The rate at which reef-building corals produce their skeletons decreases, while production of numerous varieties of jellyfish increases.
  • The ability of marine algae and free-swimming zooplankton to maintain protective shells is reduced.
  • The survival of larval marine species, including commercial fish and shellfish, is reduced."

Also, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) writes in their Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report:
"The uptake of anthropogenic carbon since 1750 has led to the ocean becoming more acidic with an average decrease in pH of 0.1 units. Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations lead to further acidification While the effects of observed ocean acidification on the marine biosphere are as yet undocumented, the progressive acidification of oceans is expected to have negative impacts on marine shell-forming organisms (e.g. corals) and their dependent species."

Some marine calcifying organisms (including coral reefs) have been singled out by major research agencies, including NOAA, OSPAR commission, NANOOS and the IPCC, because their most current research shows that ocean acidification should be expected to impact them negatively.

Carbon dioxide is also introduced into the oceans through hydrothermal vents. The Champagne hydrothermal vent, found at the Northwest Eifuku volcano at Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, produces almost pure liquid carbon dioxide, one of only two known sites in the world.

Read more about this topic:  Carbon Dioxide

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