While scientific concepts are good for describing elements of our planet, they are also ultimately illusory. We label in order to distinguish, but ultimately there are no distinctions in nature. We discuss the ecosystems of the ocean or the ecosystems of the rainforest, but there is only one interconnected ecosystem, and all life on earth exists within it.
Thus, any change in one part of this ecosystem must result in a change in another part of the ecosystem. This maintains the harmony of the system.
In this article, we will analyze one particular change to the harmony of our planetary ecosystem, namely the acidification of the ocean. We will discuss the human causes of this acidification as well as the numerous effects on ocean life.
Ocean Acidification Causes
Burning of Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, and natural gas and represent a significant resource for humans. This is because they provide energy when they are burned, and this energy is utilized by humans to power modern technology like cars and buildings.
Yet, these fossil fuels release Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere when they are burned. This disrupts the balance of normal CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and so the extra CO2 must be absorbed by some other part of the planetary ecosystem.
Oceans help absorb some of this extra C02, but at the cost of increased ocean acidification. Specifically, absorbed C02 results in a series of chemical reactions that reduces the PH of the oceans. PH is the measure of a substances acidity or basicity level.
Trees are another part of the planetary ecosystem that help absorb extra C02. They do this through the process of photosynthesis, which allows the trees to take sunlight and C02 from the air to make their food.
However, humans cut down trees in order to create spaces for development and resources like paper and wood. This means that extra C02 in the atmosphere is not absorbed, and the oceans end up absorbing it. This, of course, leads to ocean acidification.
Additionally, the act of deforestation can release C02 emissions into the atmosphere, as trees release their stored carbon when they are cut down. This also leads to a greater burden placed on oceans.
Ocean Acidification Effects
Changes in the ocean’s acidity level have a profound impact on ocean life and the greater ocean ecosystem. In this section, we break down these effects into shell and skeleton formation, and coral reef impact.
Shell and Skeleton Formation
When the ocean becomes more acidic, carbonate ions become less abundant. These carbonate ions are what many marine organisms use to create shells and skeletons, specifically by combining calcium ions with carbonate ions from the surrounding seawater to create calcium carbonate.
While some of these organisms are able to still create their exterior structures in spite of ocean acidification, they must expend extra energy to do so, which limits their ability to reproduce. Ultimately, this means they become endangered, which influences the harmony of the marine ecosystem.
Even coral reefs rely on the calcium carbonate to form their diverse ecosystems. In particular, corals secrete calcium carbonate in order to build a hard exoskeleton that holds the underwater ecosystem together.
But as we’ve seen, when the oceans become more acidic, carbonate ions are reduced, which makes the production of calcium carbonate all the more difficult.
This means not only that the growth of coral reefs is limited but also that the existing coral reefs are weakened. When the coral reefs are weakened, they are more susceptible to bioerosion, which only makes it harder for them to proliferate. Since many organisms rely on this interlocked habitat, the food chain is ultimately disrupted and disharmony results.
Furthermore, a vicious cycle develops because increased CO2 in the atmosphere also causes global warming, which results in ocean rising. Thus, the increased C02 not only weakens coral reefs but also forces them to adapt to new depths of water. Yet, they thrive at a particular depth and water temperature. This means that their existence is more endangered than ever, which is critical since they provide a home for 25% of all marine species.
Our Final Thoughts on Ocean Acidification
We think that the evidence is clear that humans are promoting ocean acidification through unsustainable activities.
While the ocean and its organisms are resilient, it’s unclear if they can adapt to the current rate of change. We think the best approach is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and focus on preserving trees. Hopefully, this will return the ocean back to a state of harmony.