New research is now suggesting that ocean acidification may hit levels not seen in millions of years due to current carbon emission trends.
The new material was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters by a team from Cardiff University in Wales. The team reconstructed levels of ocean acidity and atmospheric CO2 over the last 22 million years to compare to where we as a planet are heading towards today.
What the researchers found was actually surprising as we are soon approaching levels that have not been seen in 14 million years.
Lead author, Dr Sindia Sosdian said in a statement., “Our new geological record of ocean acidification shows us that on our current ‘business as usual’ emission trajectory, oceanic conditions will be unlike marine ecosystems have experienced for the last 14 million years.”
Ocean acidification is due C02 from the atmosphere being absorbed by the ocean , lowering the pH level of the water. As humans continue to burn more fossil fuels to produce energy, all the CO2 has to go somewhere and 1/3 of it ends in the ocean resulting in about 525 billion tons absorbed since the beginning of the industrial age.
The team was able to determine the amount of acidity in the ocean over the last 22 million years by examining fossil shells of small marine creatures. Through this, they determined that pH of the ocean
Looking at the fossilized shells of small marine creatures, the team were able to trace back the levels of acidity in seawater. The researchers noted that the pH of ocean water today was about 8.1 but by 2100, if CO2 levels rose to 930 from 400 parts per million today and if the current trend continued –the pH would become 7.8. Each drop of 0.1 corresponds to a 25 percent increase in acidity.
If these levels are to continue at this pace, many species of marine creatures including coral and most animals on the reef would not survive leading to dramatic extinctions.
The last time pH levels were that low was in the Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum period, which occurred about 14 million years ago when Earth was roughly 3°C (5.4°F) warmer due to natural changes.
That level of change took millions of years to develop compared to the man-made change that is occurring today over a couple hundred years.
“The current pH is already probably lower than any time in the last 2 million years,” Professor Carrie Lear, a co-author on the study, said in the statement. “Understanding exactly what this means for marine ecosystems requires long-term laboratory and field studies as well as additional observations from the fossil record.”