As we burn fossil fuels and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it has to go somewhere.
Much of it is absorbed by the oceans, resulting in ocean acidification - when the ocean exhibits more acidic-like properties but does not have the pH to be considered acidic.
A team of researchers that includes University of Delaware’s Wei-Jun Cai is studying the correlation between ocean acidification and the amount of CO2 n the atmosphere. Their data suggests acidified water from the Pacific Ocean moves further north into the Arctic Ocean as sea ice melts.
“We found that this acidification in the water we identified as carbonated, undersaturated water expanded greatly over the last 20 years between 1994 and 2010,” Cai said.
Cai said the ocean’s pH (a number determining if something is an acid or a base) is typically around 8.2 on an acid-alkaline scale. But in the area researchers measured in the Arctic, the pH could be anywhere around 7.8 to 8.0. Cai said the ocean would need have a pH under seven to be considered acidic on the pH scale, which is why researchers say the ocean is rapidly “acidifying” since the number is not below a seven.
Cai said the acidification has spread roughly 345 miles since the 1990s. If it continues, it’s bad news for the entire ocean food chain. Cai said shrimp need carbonated minerals found in the ocean to build their shells. Salmon feed on shrimp and their shells, so if shrimp can’t build their shells, it could raise their mortality rate, which could affect the salmon population if they don’t have shrimp to feed on.
If people can limit their use of fossil fuels, Cai said it could keep acidified waters from spreading. But he acknowledged that may be easier said than done.
JOURNAL REFERENCE: Di Qi, Liqi Chen, Baoshan Chen, Zhongyong Gao, Wenli Zhong, Richard A. Feely, Leif G. Anderson, Heng Sun, Jianfang Chen, Min Chen, Liyang Zhan, Yuanhui Zhang & Wei-Jun Cai. Increase in acidifying water in the western Arctic Ocean. Nature Climate Change, 2017; 7; DOI:10.1038/nclimate3228.