Ocean Acidification


One of the problems with the term Òclimate changeÓ is that itÕs incomplete. It addresses the impact of the phenomenon on our atmosphere, but ignores the changes underway in our oceans.  And those changes are important.


About half of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels is absorbed by the oceans equivalent to a 30% increase in the concentration of hydrogen ions, with most of it remaining near the surface.  When mixed with seawater, CO2 forms carbonic acid, which effectively lowers prevailing pH levels.  To date, the ocean has absorbed so much CO2 that the pH of the surface water around Antarctica is 1/10 lower than it was before the industrial era. In fact, at the current rate of acidification, the Southern oceanÕs surface pH will reach 3/10 by 2100, the lowest itÕs been in 300 million years



General: all groups have the same questions:

1. Compare the terms ecosystem, community, species, and population as they relate to ecology.
2. What is the difference between exponential and logistic growth? What are some density-dependent factors that keep populations from growing exponentially indefinitely? What are some density-independent factors?
3. What is an ecological niche? What happens when two species have identical niches? How does the fundamental niche differ from the realized niche?
4. Explain an example of resource partitioning, and explain how natural selection can lead to character displacement.
5. Describe an example of each of the three types of symbiosis discussed in your text.
6. Explain how energy moves through the living components of an ecosystem (starting with primary productivity and including a discussion of food webs and ecological pyramids).
7. Explain how water, carbon, and nitrogen cycle through ecosystems, and give at least one example for each of how human activities can alter the cycle.
8. Seven different biomes are described in your textbook. If you were in charge of global ecosystem conservation but were told you had to focus all of your resources on preserving two of the seven types of biospheres, which would you choose, and why?


Specific to this case study:

  1. Generally speaking, why are biologists and other scientists concerned with ocean acidification?
  2. Explain the chemistry of the acidification process in the ocean (Write an equation). How is acidification impacting the future ability of the oceanÕs ability to absorb carbon dioxide (hint: think Le Chatelier)?
  3. Why is Antarctica specifically discussed in the above paragraph? Are the impacts of this problem expected to be more pronounced in cold water systems? If so, what larger problems might stem from this issue?
  4. What types of species are likely to be the first to show major impacts of ocean acidification? Why? 
  5. .Pick two or three species or groups of species that are expected to be particularly sensitive to ocean acidification and discuss what types of ecological or economic impacts their loss or decline might have. 
  6. What can be done to ameliorate this problem? Are any international efforts underway that might help? If CO2 emissions remain at current levels what is the predicted time frame for major ramifications to be felt?