Saturday, January 31, 2009

Acid Oceans by 2050

A recent study commissioned by the UN predicts that the world's oceans will be filled with carbonic acid by 2050.  This will kill off all the coral reefs, and screw up the marine food chain.  The culprit (need we even say it?) is atmospheric carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuels.

This is the less-researched parallel to global warming.  The oceans have normally been able to filter up to a quarter of the available carbon dioxide, thus helping slow the rate of climate change.  But as the gas dissolves, it turns to acid in the water.  And the acid kills stuff. 

This process has been going on since the Industrial Revolution, and the oceans are already 30% more acidic than they were in the 17th century.  And the change is accelerating.  As a result, coral reefs are already deteriorating, and the shells of marine creatures are growing thinner.

For upstate New Yorkers, this is a familiar movie, now projected onto a much larger screen.  Acid rain -- the result of emissions from the Michigan automobile industry -- has long since poisoned the lakes and ponds of the Adirondack region.  More than one in six Adirondack bodies of water is no longer able to sustain life.  

The prospect of this happening to the oceans ought to be terrifying.  Frankly, we're stunned that today's Times relegates it to the back pages, way below the fold, and that a similar report last August didn't attract more attention.  This is potentially apocalyptic stuff.

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