Ocean acidification is a global-scale change in the basic chemistry of our oceans, lowering pH levels and effectively causing ocean water to become corrosive. This lowering of pH levels is putting at risk the survival of many species of marine life and coastal communities throughout the world. The activities of humans have caused carbon dioxide levels of our atmosphere to reach concentration's that are now greater than any time in the last 800,000 years. Our oceans have absorbed 525 billion tons of CO2 from our atmosphere, about 50% is released from the burning of fossil fuels each year, implicating long-term negative affects on the chemistry and biology of our oceans.
The lower pH caused by acidification impairs the ability of calcifying marine life, such as coral, shellfish, marine plankton, clams and oysters, to build their skeletons or shells. Coral reef building rates could decrease to insufficient levels by the year 2100 making the oceans an unsustainable environment for many species. Changes to coastal reefs and their stability will reduce protection from storm surges and hurricanes along with extreme economic hardships along coastal communities from the disappearance of species that bring in revenue and nourishment. The decline of larval marine species including commercial fish, shellfish and marine plankton, a vital food source for countless species, could cause a decline or even extinction for the species that depend on them for survival. The corrosive ocean water damages the shells and skeletons of these species severely limiting their survival rate.
In 2007, evidence of corrosive ocean water was found less than 20 miles off the coast of North America. The first time acidified ocean water has been found on the continental shelf of western North America, and is now being found at even deeper depths farther from shore. Scientists did not expect the extent of acidification that they found until the middle of the century, alluding to the fact that acidification is occurring faster than originally thought.
Ocean acidification is not only a danger to the ocean and the marine life that calls it home but it is a serious threat to the entire global carbon cycle and climate, potentially having far reaching negative consequences in many aspects of the natural order of the planet. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA and more than 70 countries along with the European Commission is working to develop a global monitoring network of our oceans. Development of ways to limit our carbon emissions and correct the massive acidification process that is occurring is of the utmost importance for the continued stability of life itself.