What is Ocean Acidification?

Ocean acidification is the process whereby ocean waters increase in acid concentration and the PH level fall beyond normal. There are many things that contribute to this occurrence. Salinity can be simply explained and understood as the amount of salt concentration. Also, the ocean water has some level of PH and is mostly rated on the higher side of the neutral PH on the PH scale.

There are certain times that the ocean experiences changes in its nature. This can encompass the increase in the ocean or sea water acidity. Again, the ocean acidification process can also be explained as situation where the level of carbon IV oxide in the water increases drastically. This may be influenced by some human activities such as burning of fossil fuels that cause harm to the atmosphere.

According to NOAA,

Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.


Causes of Ocean Acidification

  1. Raised carbon IV oxide concentration in the ocean

When the level of carbon dioxide gas gets higher in the ocean, it obviously affects the whole water. When sea organisms die on the sea beds, their remains pile up and form corals which is consisting of carbons. Also, these organisms release calcium into the water. These compounds have far-reaching detrimental impact on the composition of the water as they add acidity.

  1. Raised carbon IV oxide concentration in the atmosphere

Sometimes, the harm induced in the atmosphere can spread into the waters. This is when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere through various human activities. This in turn contaminates the water because the carbon gases get to be dissolved in the sea waters and this lowers the PH of the water, contributing to acidification.

  1. Higher concentration of hydrogen ions in the water

At the sea beds, there are some chemical reactions that may take place and they can have negative impacts on the quality of the ocean water. Such reactions may include the increase in hydrogen ions which when combined with other compounds such as nitrogen, water among other gases, and their reactions lead to ocean water acidity.

  1. Burning fossil fuels

This may not be directly linked to the contamination of the water but it plays some crucial role in the changing of environment. Fuels such as petroleum, diesel, and coal produce lots of carbon dioxide when burnt. This increases the concentration of carbon gas in the atmosphere which in turn finds way into the water. Carbon and other atmospheric gases find entry into the sea through acidic rainfalls or even direct dissolving into the water.

  1. Waste disposal

Disposal of wastes has been a challenge to many countries. As for those that border sea water masses, they have been too quick on using the oceans as the possible dumping grounds of domestic and industrial wastes. Nonetheless, as the atmosphere shoulders the brunt of poisonous gases; sea waters are on the receiving end of dangerous liquid wastes.

Alongside direct sewage waste disposal, there are other wastes that increase the level of acidity in the water. As an example, industrial and agricultural wastes that have acidic compounds are very dangerous as they lower the PH of the ocean water.

  1. Improper land management

Agriculture may also contribute to the problem of ocean acidity. It may happen especially when the methods that are employed by the farmers are not suitable. These are methods that may be prone to soil erosion and in the process, the chemicals are washed downstream into the ocean. In short, if land is poorly managed, the water masses can be hit by the impact of acidifying soil mineral content and water pollution.

  1. Industrialization

Countries or cities that have embraced industrialization pose dangerous implications to the environment. Their existence can only mean that there is increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere which when absorbed into the water, the level of acidity increases. Industries contribute to the emission of dangerous gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and many others which later form acid rain or dissolve in the oceans to create acidic conditions.

Effects of Ocean Acidification

  1. Increase in the carbon dioxide concentration in the ocean

Ocean acidification does not only change the PH of the ocean water. As a matter of fact, it also changes the gaseous concentration in the ocean and to be particular, it increases the concentration of carbon dioxide. This is because of the reactions between carbon dioxide and water molecules to form more carbonic acid. And when it rains on the water masses, the level of carbon concentration rises further and further instead of subsiding as more carbon dioxide is absorbed to form more carbonic acid. This may lead to suffocation and even death of marine creatures.

  1. Loss of aquatic life

The sea water supports life at its normal conditions. Nevertheless, when the PH level is lowered or raised, some organisms are affected. Some of the aquatic include various types of fish, mammals such as whales, shark and many more. Increase in acidity makes living cumbersome and almost impossible for some living things. This leads to the disappearance or death of some organisms in the aquatic ecological environment.

  1. Food shortage

Ocean acidification contributes to the problem of food shortage in many ways.  When fish die, humans who depend on them or food and livelihood are hit by the socio-economic problems. This process also contributes to acidic waters which have more devastating effect on the agricultural production. Acidic water results in the increase in the soil acidity. Such a thing makes it impossible for the cultivation and production of certain crops. This leads to low production and starvation.

  1. Food web interference

Ocean acidification leads to the death and disappearance of some plants and animals in the sea. When some organisms become extinct, their dependents are also threatened because they have nothing to feed on.

  1. Impact on human health

Humans depend on water for various purposes. When the ocean water acidity gets higher, the consumers or the users of such water are living in perilous situation. Diseases such as cancers can easily be transmitted to humans when they consume fish intoxicated with higher sulfur concentrations.

  1. Impact on the reefs

As more carbon dioxide is absorbed into the oceans, it bonds to form carbonic acid. The acid then produces hydrogen ion and bicarbonate ion and the hydrogen ion bonds with free carbonate ions in the ocean to form other bicarbonate products. The problem with this reaction is that marine organisms possessing shells (corals, crustaceans, mollusks, foramaniferans, and coralline algae) need the carbonate ions to make calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. Thus, the more dissolved carbon dioxide in the ocean, the less free carbonate ions accessible for forming calcium carbonate shells/skeletons.


Solutions to Ocean Acidification

  1. Strict and relevant regulations

Human actions are best guarded by the policies of the land. The first step towards the fight against ocean acidification can be commenced through the ratification of legislations that can ensure that the waste handling, among other pollution-risk activities are controlled. Such regulations would spread to the fisheries department to ensure that safety is maintained in food consumption.

  1. Civil Education

Governments and international organizations can come up with some platforms where they educate or sensitize the common citizens on the risks posed by the climate change and ocean acidification. Such initiatives can instill some self-triggered discipline that acts as guidance for the quest to environmental conservation. Education would also be necessary because the tips given in the theoretical context will not only be pertinent in real context but also in the understanding of the policies.

  1. Consuming only the “right fish”

In any case, increase in acidity would make fish consumption a risky affair. This is why the authorities would be tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that only the less harmless fish find their way into the market. This can be very helpful in reducing the chances of having food poisoning and carbon gas circulation in the environment.

  1. Reducing the consumption of carbon-oriented energy sources

The presence of high concentration of carbon in the atmosphere can be attributed to various human activities which can be controlled to some extent. Carbon emitted from the fossil fuels can be reduced through the minimization of use of such fuels. Adopting the use of alternative/renewable energy sources can be the best available option. Diversification of energy sources such as the use of solar and wind as the alternative energy sources can significantly pay off.

When there is reduced carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, there will be a resultant change in the ocean. The other viable option that can be reliable is the geothermal which is environmentally friendly. Geothermal power can be such an initiative because it comes with the less emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This would reduce the chances of contaminating the ocean waters.

  1. Use of alternative water sources

Because of the need to ensure that there is safety, skepticism may pay off. Such can be through the use of alternative water sources such as the use of boreholes, wells or tapped rain water instead of ocean water domestically. This can help in minimizing possible ocean water pollution.

Image credit: BCG , US Mission


Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.