Oceans Feeling the Heat at an Alarming Rate

  • Published on November 26th, 2008

Everybody’s starting to pay a lot more attention to emissions spewing up into the atmosphere. But it still seems that not many are aware that those emissions end up in the ocean, too, modifying and even destroying ecosystems. The process is ocean acidification, and it’s happening at a much more alarming rate than originally thought, according to a new report published in the journal PNAS. The report was the result of eight years of sampling the U.S. Northwest Coast.

>>More on global warming’s effects on the world’s oceans

Acidification happens because carbon dioxide lowers the pH of water. Lower pH means higher acidity. And the higher acidity affects the calcified shells of creatures like mussels, which have declined in population.

Just think about it – it’s already a little difficult to survive in places where water is constantly rushing by. Acidification doesn’t help, nor does the fact that it’s rising 10 times higher than previously thought, according to that eight-year study.

But it’s not just mussels that are affected by global warming in water. I did a report two summers ago, looking at the effects on the Great Barrier Reef, one of the planet’s most beautiful natural areas. And the results weren’t that good. The reef, I found out, may be destroyed in a mere 30 years to global warming. Yes, 30 years. The reef has been forming since God knows when, and it may be gone in just three decades.

While the reef will still contain life, it will looking nothing like it is now: colorful, vibrant and teeming with species of fish and coral. Instead, white and dead coral will cover the surface, and you’d have to dive deep to see that a reef still does exist somewhere in the murky depths of the ocean.

That’s a scary thought.

The problem with the reef is coral bleaching, which occurs when water temperatures are more than 30 degrees Celsius. Algae consists of 95 percent of a coral’s food and give corals their colors, but in warmer water temperatures algae produce toxins, which makes the coral spit out the algae. Without algae, corals turn white and eventually starve to death.

So, with the fact that the ocean is being affected more rapidly than thought by global warming, it might be too late to take drastic action for one of the world’s most sensitive and beautiful areas.

Photo Credit: Leonard_Low on Flickr under a Creative Commons License

About the Author

My name is Amanda, and I'm a recent grad from Michigan State University. At MSU I was involved in the environmental journalism program and have written for the school's environmental journal and E, The Environmental Magazine. I'm delving into freelancing now, and will spend the summer in NYC as an intern at NYC Parks and Recreation.

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