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Oceans Acidifying faster Now than Past 300 Million Years

March 8, 2012; 10:37 AM ET

Some sobering news from the National Science Foundation......

According to new research, the world's oceans may be currently acidifying at a quicker rate than they have in the past 300 million years.

The high output of global carbon emissions is turning our oceans more acidic. The oceans draw down excess carbon dioxide from the air and that reaction leads to the formation of carbonic acid.

Normally, the carbonic acid is slowly neutralized by fossil carbonate shells on the seafloor, according to the National Science Foundation news release.

Coral and plankton under threat

If too much CO2 enters the ocean too quickly it causes a reduction of carbonate ions that corals and some plankton need for shell and reef-building.

The researchers found evidence for only one period in the last 300 million years when the oceans changed as fast as today: the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, according to the NSF.

In the last hundred years, rising carbon dioxide from human activities has lowered ocean pH by 0.1 unit, an acidification rate at least 10 times faster than 56 million years ago, says lead author Bärbel Hönisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

You can read much more detail about this research from the NSF article.

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