To Catch a Fallen Sea Angel

To Catch a Fallen Sea Angel: A mighty mollusk detects ocean acidification

By Kevin Zelnio
Nov 5, 2010 10:05 AM
"What's more," snapped the Lorax. (His dander was up.)
"Let me say a few words about Gluppity-Glupp.
Your machine chugs on, day and night without stop
making Gluppity-Glupp. Also Schloppity-Schlopp.
And what do you do with this leftover goo?...
I'll show you. You dirty old Once-ler man, you!
"You're glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed!
No more can they hum, for their gills are all gummed.
So I'm sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary.
They'll walk on their fins and get woefully weary
in search of some water that isn't so smeary."

“But now,” says the Once-ler,
“Now that you’re here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better, Its not.” – Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded “the response of organisms to ocean acidification is poorly known and could cause further changes in the marine carbon cycle with consequences that are difficult to estimate” (Bindoff et al. 2007). In the intervening three years since its publication, ocean acidification has risen to become a major research area in marine science. While the oceans buffer the planet against rising CO2 concentrations, it does so a cost to its own chemistry.

In case you have yet to noticed the ocean is REALLY big, 1.3 billion cubic kilometers (312 million cubic miles) big in fact. The oceans hover near a pH around 8.1. Since the ocean is HUGE, it takes A LOT to move the pH up or down. At a pH of 8.1, the carbonate system is composed of 90% bicarbonate, 9% carbonate, and only 1% as dissolved CO2. While we put our Gluppity-Glupp and Schloppity-Schlopp into the atmosphere, the ocean does its best to buffer the planet by balancing its chemistry with the air. As a consequence the acid balance is tilted lower because while the concentration of each component of the carbonate system increases, the increase in hydrogen ions comes at a cost to carbonate ions, which is what marine calcifiers need to create shells (Doney et al. 2009).


Limacina helicina - a pteropod mollusc - Image used with permission by Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska Fairbanks. More at Arctic Ocean Diversity.


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