In 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers found that some waters in Washington's Puget Sound had pH levels as low as 7.7, significantly more acidic than usual conditions. But just what that means for marine eco-systems in the Northwest is unclear, because the science on the subject is surprisingly scarce.
An Ignored Problem
Ocean acidification may be global warming's evil twin, but it's the lesser known and acknowledged of the two. The ocean absorbs carbon from the atmosphere (as much as 1/3 of the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels), making it more acidic. TreeHugger John Laumer calls this a "carbon bomb": "acid in the face of marine life, regardless of what we do to reduce on-going carbon emissions."
The best weapon we have against climate change inaction is tangible proof that the planet is getting warmer, with negative effects. The same is true for spurring action on ocean acidification, and that's what makes new research projects so crucial: the more we know, the more we can do, and convince others to do.
Fortunately, the rising levels of acidity, as well as temperature, have drawn the attention of scientists in Washington State. The Seattle Times reports a wave of research projects probing the extremely complicated effects of the two phenomena on a marine ecosystem and food web that no one completely understands.
Mussels, for example, are not bothered by acidic water, but warmer water weakens the bonds they use to cling to rocks. So they are easily knocked off and fall to the ocean floor, where they're feasted upon by crabs. Low pH levels, however, do great harm to sea urchins, oysters, squid and plenty of other sea creatures, but in various and hard to predict ways. There are even species that do well in more acidic waters.
So what does all of this mean? There's no way to tell just yet; these findings are just pieces in large, complicated puzzle. But it's not a leap to say that ocean acidification is a threat to the health of marine ecosystems, one we need to know more about if we're going to effect change.