As far as oceanographers and biogeochemists are concerned, the level of attention that has been bestowed on the interactions between increased carbon dioxide emissions, global warming and the oceans amongst media and policy circles has essentially boiled down to one of two memes: higher sea surface temperatures or higher sea levels. Even then, the media's focus on these global warming-induced effects has paled in comparison to the attention paid to terrestrial ecosystems and future changes.
Though no big secret amongst marine biologists - some of us have been studying the phenomenon of ocean acidification for years now - the long-term effect of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on the ocean's chemistry has largely remained an unknown quantity to the general public. In a nutshell, a larger influx of carbon dioxide into the oceans will shift the delicate equilibrium governing the water's chemistry, prompting an increase in the hydrogen ion concentration and, thus, a lowering of its pH. A new study investigating the effects of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on the oceans has found that - unless emission cuts are immediately enacted - they will exceed the EPA's standards within the next few decades. This directly contradicts the results presented by an earlier article that had claimed that the oceans' pH would easily remain within the EPA's standards.
Criticizing the paper's author for having made "inappropriate assumptions and erroneous thermodynamic calculations," the authors of the new study argued that he erred by significantly underestimating how much the pH would change as a result of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. In fact, the pH changes could be large enough to cause the large-scale dissolution of coral reefs around the world and the deaths of phytoplankton species unable to form their mineralized shells. Because these species sit in the bottom trophic level of the seas' elaborate food chains, their removal would have drastic consequences - including the complete and utter collapse of most commercial fisheries.
Unless the EPA revises its stand - which "does not impose legally binding requirements on EPA, states, tribes or the regulated community" - the authors warn that we could move pass the point of no return as far as the oceans' water chemistry is concerned. Isn't it about time they started acting on limiting carbon dioxide emissions?
See also: ::Planktos to Begin Ocean Seeding, ::International Team Of Scientists To Test South Atlantic Carbon Sink In 2009, ::Ocean's Twilight Zone Has Role in Climate Change, ::Ocean Saltiness Provides Early Warning System for Climate Change