Oceans on acid

“The growing amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean could have a bigger effect on life on Earth than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Charles Miller, Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s deputy investigator for NASA’s new Orbiting Carbon Observatory, told ScienceDaily in late October.

The ocean absorbs about one third of the carbon dioxide humans release into the air. As it soaks it in, the CO2 changes the chemistry of the seawater, making it acidic. This acidity strips seawater of the carbonate ion marine plants and animals need to form hard shells or skeletal materials. Some of the victims of ocean acidification include mollusks like clams and oysters, as well as coral reefs, which provide critical habitat. This process can affect significantly the ocean’s food chain, where marine mammals eat large fish, which eat smaller fish, which eat snails and other hard-shelled creatures, and so on.

NASA is launching its Orbiting Carbon Observatory in Jan. 2009. The observatory aims to make precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide, helping to identify the sources of carbon dioxide, the places that absorb and store it on both land and in the ocean, and how they vary over time.