Ocean Acidification Needs Greater Consideration by Policy-Makers

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hilary Benn MP, is due to address policy-makers assembled at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen today, as part of ‘Oceans Day’. The Secretary of State is due to highlight the dangers posed to marine life and human well-being by ocean acidification, and the limited attention which this issue receives compared to others being discussed by climate change negotiators.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now 30% higher than during pre-industrial times. A proportion of the carbon dioxide which has entered the atmosphere over the past 200 years has been absorbed by the oceans – with constant gaseous exchange between the seas and air. When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, carbonic acid is formed, which dissociates into hydrogen and carbonate ions. The Ph of the ocean, measuring hydrogen ion concentration and hence acidity, is now 0.1 unit lower, with a total decrease of 0.3 or 0.4 Ph units expected by the end of the century. An increase in the acidity of the seas will affect the ability of corals and other organisms to build calcium carbonate shells; studies have shown that coral growth in the Great Barrier Reef is already slowing.

Mr Benn told the BBC News that ocean acidification “doesn’t get as much attention as other problems; it is really important”. Destruction of corals will affect all those who depend on the reefs – from the fish which forage there to the populations which depend on these fish for protein; over 1 bilion people worldwide. He will recommend to policy-makers today that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) investigates ocean acidification during its next major assessment of world climate, scheduled for release in 2013.

Original source; ‘Acidifying oceans’ threaten food supply, UK warns, Richard Black, BBC News Website