The only people not concerned about what carbon dioxide is doing to the oceans are those among us who do not understand the science. And we cannot blame them for what they do not know. However, we can take issue with those who express strong opinions on subjects about which they are obviously misinformed.
Here is what we know. "Industrial activity since the mid-18th century means we have already emitted 500 billion tonnes of carbon."
We have emitted one half a trillion tons of CO2 in the last 250 years and we add another 30 billion tons every single year. "It took 250 years to burn the first 500 billion tonnes. On current trends we'll burn the next 500 billion in less than 40 years."
We also know that "About 30-40% of the carbon dioxide released by humans into the atmosphere dissolves into the oceans, rivers and lakes."
"To maintain chemical equilibrium, some of it reacts with the water to form carbonic acid." And as this happens, our oceans acidify. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco said "Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs across the world, acting as the 'osteoporosis of the sea' and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods."
Oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to an increase in acidity. Scientists are worried about how that increase will affect sea life, particularly reefs, as higher acid levels make it tough for coral skeletons to form. Lubchenco likened ocean acidification to osteoporosis -- a bone-thinning disease -- because researchers are concerned it will lead to the deterioration of reefs."
Several years ago, scientists at the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Tillamook, Oregon, discovered that an entire batch of 100 million larvae of baby oysters had perished. Recently, scientists were able to conclusively determine the cause: "a radical change in ocean acidity."
The acid levels rose so high that the larvae could not form their protective shells, according to a study published this year. The free-swimming baby oysters would struggle for days, then fall exhausted to the floor of the tank."
According to Alan Barton, who manages Whiskey Creek, which supplies three-quarters of the oyster seed to independent shellfish farms from Washington to California, "There's no debating it. We're changing the chemistry of the oceans."
And it isn't just the shelled creatures that are endangered. "It ultimately will threaten other marine animals, the seafood industry and even the health of humans who eat affected shellfish, scientists say."
Just as we have increased atmospheric levels of CO2 by 40 percent, we have increased the acidity of our oceans by 30 percent as it absorbs our greenhouse gas emissions. If it weren't for the oceans, the CO2 levels in our atmosphere and the temperature of the planet would both be much higher.
The "oceans have buffered the full effects of climate change, scientists say: Temperatures have not risen as much as they would have otherwise, glaciers haven't melted as fast. Yet the benefits are coming at a cost to marine life, especially oysters, clams and corals that rely on the minerals in alkaline seawater to build their protective shells and exoskeletons. The ill effects of the changing chemistry only add to the oceans' problems, which include warming temperatures and expanding low-oxygen 'dead zones.'"
The full brunt of ocean acidification won't hit for decades. But scientists say the only sure way to avoid the worst is to significantly reduce carbon emissions."
"A few years ago, the shellfish industry became alarmed that 80% of oyster larvae at hatcheries were not surviving. Initially, they blamed an aggressive strain of bacteria."
But after Richard A. Feely, a chemical oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "found evidence of corrosive waters reaching the West Coast, industry officials asked him and other scientists if there might be a connection to the die-offs."
And that is exactly what scientists found. The "acidic waters drawn in by intake pipes" are directly responsible for these massive deaths of oyster larvae.
"Oyster larvae are particularly sensitive in their first few days of life. As acidity rises in the ocean, the abundance of calcium carbonate -- a mineral they need to build their shells -- is gradually reduced. At extremely high levels of acidity, laboratory experiments show, seawater no longer provides this material and indeed can cause existing shells of corals, snails and other animals to dissolve."