- Human activities that threaten biodiversity
- Mutation as a source of variation
- Invasive species
- How did all dinosaurs except birds go extinct?
- Were dinosaurs undergoing long-term decline before mass extinction?
- Human impact on ecosystems review
- Introduced species and biodiversity
- How does climate change affect biodiversity?
- Demystifying ocean acidification and biodiversity impacts
- Biodiversity and extinction, then and now
- Threats to biodiversity
Why rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere affect the acidity of the ocean, and what the consequences are for marine life. Video by California Academy of Sciences. Created by California Academy of Sciences.
Want to join the conversation?
- Why do oceans absorb CO2? Would a glass of water also absorb CO2? Or is it because of other things in the water (sodium, chloride etc.) or plankton/plants that oceans absorb the CO2?(7 votes)
- The short answer is that yes, even a glass of water will absorb CO2. CO2 is a gas that is soluble in any water of any kind, whether or not there are organisms living in the water. The rate at which this happens is dependent on the amount of CO2 already in the water, but you can boost the process by blowing down a straw into the water. This is a well-known experiment in chemistry classes in which a bit of litmus paper (which changes color as pH changes) is placed in the glass. The paper changes color as you keep blowing down the straw. This is because your breath contains CO2. As you breathe in, the oxygen you need for respiration goes into your lungs, where it is exchanged for the CO2 that your body is trying to get rid of. Therefore, the CO2 concentration in your breath is relatively high as you breathe out.
You're right. Certain organisms in the ocean, such as plants, can use up some of the CO2 dissolving into the ocean from the atmosphere to make their bodies. In fact, they all need this dissolved CO2, just as plants on land need CO2 to make their bodies. However, there is now so much CO2 going into the ocean that the ability of these organisms to completely use it up is being overcome by the rate at which CO2 is dissolving. This results in the effects shown by the video: the release of H+ ions, which decreases the pH, and causes ocean acidification.(12 votes)
- What does PH mean in science?(5 votes)
- In science, pH measures the acidity of liquids. A pH of 6 or 7 is in the middle - the acidity of water. The higher the number, the less acidic, or more basic, a liquid is. Liquids like bleach and soap are bases (more basic/more alkaline) and therefore have higher pH readings. Lower pHs are more acidic (acids). Soda or the gastric acids that break down foods in your stomach are examples of acidic liquids with low pH readings.(3 votes)
- Is there anyway we can supplement calcium bicarbonate in the oceans? Is there any elment that causes bicarbonate, carbonate, and carbonate ions to change into a less destructive element? In a fish tank you have Ph levels too, and when the Ph starts to drop you change the water, is there anyway to sort of change the water in the ocean (move all the bad to another part of the world or spread it out so it isnt as dense)?(4 votes)
- That is quite complicated.
Moving 'bad' water into another part of the world is not an option.
What we need are organism which either accumulate carbonate or easily convert it into bicarbonate.
Organism to work as buffers.
Refer to coral reefs that take up carbonate.(2 votes)
- Couldn't we put like pools of water on the roads to soak up Co2 and would that even have any good effect.(3 votes)
- You could, but cars travelling along the road would hydroplane, which defeats the purpose of road safety.(2 votes)
- Because of5:58, can't we just add Calcium to the water to slow down the chemical reactions between hydrogen and carbonate ions?(3 votes)
- I live in Sweden and they add limestone to lakes with a low pH-value, this process is costly though and only works for small amounts of water. I would assume there is to much water in the ocean for this to be a possible solution.(2 votes)
- what are the impact of ocean acidification to biodiversity ma'am?(2 votes)
- i'm not a ma'am, but i'll answer anyway. some species in the ocean are not able to withstand the acidity of the oceans, which will cause them to die out. some species are more tolerant of acidic environments, while others are not. from this, the more tolerant species will flourish, while the less tolerant will die.
furthermore, some species could adapt to the acidity, while some cannot. this different in adaptability would also create differences in numbers between different species.
there are several other effects described in the video too.(1 vote)
- In the video at8:23, the video states that coccoliths help produce clouds, how do they do that?(2 votes)
- Coccolithophores are intense producers of a chemical called dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). The production of DMSP leads eventually (via several chemical transformations) to additional cloud condensation nuclei in the atmosphere and thereby to increased cloud cover.
- Theoretically, if there are enough CO2 and stuff, can the ocean get a really extreme pH like 1? what will happen to sea life if that happens?(1 vote)
- Why does the ocean absorb CO2 is it because the acidification and the biodiversity impacts or the plants and plankton and could even a bathtub full of water absorb CO2 due to the (sodium,chloride and chlorine etc.)?(1 vote)
- IF HCO3 breakdown into CO3 ,Then why it can not make a bond with Ca? It could make better calcium carbonate shell,are not?(1 vote)
(gentle music) - [Narrator] Instead of global warming, these days we talk about global change. And ocean acidification kind of worked its way into the fabric of this change, making it possible for us to look at the problem of global change in a more expansive way than the more simplistic idea of global warming. But what is ocean acidification? And how exactly does it affect our topic of interest, biodiversity? First, we need to look at the cause of ocean acidification in order to understand what it actually is and what it means to biodiversity. Essentially, if you talk about this big cloud, this puff of CO2, that's produced by human activity, 30 to 40%, almost half, of that cloud ends up dissolved in the ocean. The rest stays in the atmosphere or it's incorporated into living things in some form or another, usually as plant material or the bodies of other producers. But the huge amount of CO2 that gets dissolved in the oceans is definitely going to be doing something. The added CO2 in the ocean causes an increase in acidity. Acidity is measured by something called pH. And it's worth talking a little bit about pH for a moment. A couple of things to note about the pH scale. It goes from zero to 14 where zero is highly acidic and 14 is highly alkaline, also called highly basic. A pH of seven is neutral like distilled water. So if you increase acidity, the pH is dropping and if you increase alkalinity, the pH is going up. Note that the pH scale is logarithmic, which means that each step is a factor of 10. If you go from a pH of six to something slightly less alkaline, that is more acidic, at a pH of five, you're actually increasing the acidity 10 times. Going from pH six to pH four, it's more acidic by a factor of 10 times 10, which means 100 times more acidic. Most importantly, pH is a measure of potential. That's where the p in pH comes from. The power or potential of a liquid to make charged hydrogen atoms or ions. Think of pH as potential H or power of hydrogen ions. We'll see in a moment why the power of such a tiny thing as a hydrogen ion is so crucial. First, let's look at this problem of introducing carbon dioxide to seawater. Over the industrial period between about 1751 and the early 1990s, the surface ocean pH decreased from about 8.25 to 8.14. That doesn't sound like a lot, but remember, we're talking about an average for the entire global ocean over the globe and it's logarithmic. So we're actually talking about a 30% increase in hydrogen ion concentration in the ocean. We've got CO2 in the atmosphere that's going into the water. The CO2 breaks down. We have a chemical reaction where the CO2 plus the water leads to carbonic acid. The process looks like this. When you have the carbonic acid in the water, a couple of things happen. Each carbonic acid molecule can release one of its hydrogen ions to make something called a bicarbonate. And a bicarbonate molecule can further break down into a carbonate ion. The big issue here is you get both of these molecules, bicarbonate and carbonate by losing hydrogen ions, which are now zipping around freely in the water. And remember what we said about hydrogen ions. They're going to increase the acidity of the water. And that's the key point. Through the addition of CO2, you set up a chain of events that results in these powerful little hydrogen ions being set free as the active ingredient, or the culprit, in the damage that acids can do. It's worth talking about this global process in terms of rate. It's not so much that the pH levels are changing, but they're changing faster than anything we've seen for a very long time. The current rates of acidification are very similar to those during an enormous greenhouse event that occurred at the Paleocene/Eocene boundary 55 million years ago. And that time was marked by huge extinctions at very fundamental levels of ecosystem production, particularly in the deep sea. Geologic history tells us that biodiversity can be threatened by exposure to increased acidity in the oceans. There's a huge range of harmful consequences, including drops in metabolic rate or drops in immune response to other organisms such as parasites or bacteria that are in the environment. And we know that drops in pH can cause destruction of coral by triggering chemical reactions that result in an overall drop of the amount of carbonate ions available. Okay, so what does that mean? Well, it means a bit more chemistry. Many organisms that live in the ocean use a very special building material, calcium carbonate, which is dissolved in seawater. And it's made by this reaction. Add calcium atoms to carbonate ions and you make calcium carbonate, a material that goes into the skeletons of organisms that live in the sea, such as corals and molluscs and crabs. They're very dependent on calcium carbonate. Unfortunately, these free carbonate ions are also recombining with those busy, very reactive hydrogen ions to make more bicarbonate. So this reduces the available calcium carbonate that organisms would otherwise be able to use. And that means that organisms with a calcium carbonate skeleton are going to have trouble maintaining their skeleton simply because they can't get enough of the calcium carbonate to grow or repair their shells and skeletons. It turns out that it's not just corals, molluscs, and crabs that are affected. Single-celled organisms called foraminifera and coccolithophores which are close to the base of the food web and terribly important in marine ecosystems are among the most effected. If you put a foraminiferan, or foram, under a microscope, they look like little spirals and funny-shaped boxes. They're fantastic things to look at. Forams are like little single-celled amoebae that make shells. They're metabolism and ability to make those shells is deeply affected by pH levels in the ocean. Now, coccolithophores are really interesting, somewhat mysterious, single-celled algae that also take up calcium carbonate from the ocean to make a coccolith. Lith means rock and cocco roughly means berry-shaped. So these organisms are shaped like tiny fruit, but with a rocky covering. Not everyone knows about these, but now you do. Because they're plants, they are really important as phytoplankton producers in ocean ecosystems. No one's too sure why they make their calcium carbonate coverings, but the mere fact that they are making their calcium carbonate shells means that they're also going to be deeply affected by decreasing oceanic pH. And there've always been lots and lots of coccolithophores. The White Cliffs of Dover are made up almost entirely of fossil coccoliths. Coccolithophores produce a chemical that contributes to the formation of clouds. Some scientists even think that threatening the existence of coccolithophores could result in a reduction in cloud cover over the oceans, reducing the reflectivity of the earth and, thereby, increasing the rate of global warming. As I mentioned, bigger things like corals and crabs and snails and clams will also have some issues with their ability to secrete calcium carbonate. They depend so much on that. Scientists have run experiments in which increasing the amount of CO2 in the air above a tank of seawater can actually increase the rate at which the skeletons of some of these forams will dissolve. Now, notice I said some. It's variable, but we're seeing some effects in almost every major group of organisms that we've looked at so far, even in starfish and sea urchins which have protective skin over their entire bodies. They actually have an internal skeleton like fish or you or me, but even those have problems, particularly in larval stages. And these larvae form a huge part of the plankton and remember how crucial plankton are to food webs in the sea. Even for organisms that don't have calcium carbonate skeletons and shells, increased acidity can be a problem. Hypercapnia, which is an actual excess of CO2 in the body fluids of organisms, can happen in things like fish or squid and mess with their immune responses. Excess CO2 can even make it difficult for baby clown fish to distinguish among the odors of friends and foes and interfere with sensory mechanisms or even the ability to hear predators coming. The latter is kind of interesting because you can get changes in the acoustic properties of seawater by changing its chemistry and that has huge implications for any animal that uses echolocation, for example. CO2 increases ocean noise, which is already getting noisier all the time through other human activities. More acidic environments can interfere with the construction of things like ear bones and balance organs, such as what are known as statoliths, tiny little stones that squid make and hold in special chambers in their bodies. Statoliths allow squid to sense pressure and changes in direction and movement. And this just illustrates how little we know. Things have unusual kinds of cascading effects that you might not think of over and above this inability to make calcium carbonate skeletons from seawater. Here's another example that has a complicated story. Like land plants, seagrasses do a bit better in building their bodies when CO2 levels are increased. And seagrasses are really important. They're valuable feeding and spawning sites for a variety of species so if you enhance the growth of seagrasses, maybe you're doing something good? But what we don't know is if those local benefits of better seagrass growth will be outweighed by the wider disruption to the marine food chain as a whole and what that means for biodiversity. These are all pretty complicated things. We don't really know what the longterm or even short-term interplay of all these different factors is going to be. We definitely need some focused research on these topics. But we do know that ocean acidification is certainly mostly bad news. It's a global problem and we're going to need to start talking about global solutions as soon as possible. (gentle music)