Death by ocean warming & acidification

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Terrestrials like us humans can experience warm air currents and escape from them by switching on an air conditioner. Fear is in the air that we will not be able to sustain this escapism for far too long.

With almost certainty, scientists have been warning that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide could eventually lead to catastrophic climate change. This leaves us with two options: fight or flight. Either way, it needs one to believe that anthropogenic climate change could be a possibility. While some think that this might be a grand political manipulation at work, it might as well be a prediction that needs some time to prove itself.

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(Image credit: Lorenzo Tondi on WordPress)

Well, we have a choice to make. A choice that can be made easy by scientific studies that not only observe the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere, but also what covers 70 percent of it – the oceans.

When greenhouse gases make their way into the ocean, we have Ocean Acidification (direct effect via CO2 absorption) and rising ocean temperature (indirect effect via heat absorption caused by CO2 in the air).

Ocean acidification explained:

Ocean acidification is the process by which the acidity of oceans increase with an increase in carbon dioxide absorption. Here’s how it goes:

  • CO2 + water –> carbonic acid (H2CO3)
  • H2CO3 + water –> HCO3(-) ions + H(+) ions
  • More CO2 = More H(+) ions = More acidity (decrease in pH)

(HCO3(-) ions are bicarbonate ions, CO3(2-) ions are carbonate ions)

This is natural. Now let’s put some more CO2 in those reactions. We get this:

  • More CO2 –> More H2CO3 = More HCO3(-) ions
  • HCO3(-) –> CO3(2-) ions + H(+) ions
  • More decrease in pH with more H(+) ions here

This disturbs the chemical equilibrium of the ocean and the reaction reverses. We now have:

  • CO3(2-) ions + H(+) ions –> HCO3(-)
  • This means we have a lot of bicarbonate ions floating around and less of carbonate ions.

CO3(2-) is a friend of sea shells. It needs it for shell formation. The reaction for shell formation is:

CO3(2-) + Ca(2+) –> CaCO3 (calcium carbonate)

With less of carbonate ions, we have less of calcium carbonate. How can these sea shells possibly build their homes without it?

Effects of ocean warming & acidification:

Although heat and CO2 absorption are a part of a natural cycles: carbon cycle and heat cycle, scientific observations show the cycles are off balance. Scientists have observed amplified natural events: El Nino (warm currents) and La Nina (cold currents). This disturbance in balance is seen as a change in aquatic animals in their structure or behavior. While some aquatic animals like the Gorgorian corals are adapting to it, many are on the verge of expiry, or at least are getting fatally attracted to their own death.

When such natural processes go off balance without human involvement, we still have loss of species. For example, if a meteor strikes our planet, big or small, it does have an effect on our planet. This is because for many processes, Earth can be considered as a closed system: wherein mass and energy stay in a loop and do not go out of the atmosphere. For example, sunlight entering the earth. Much of it stays inside. In the case of meteor though, it can be said to be an open system because there was an addition of mass into the Earth’s system. Considering the lower probability of a meteor strike, Earth can be considered as a closed system. Anthropogenic activities accelerate these processes leaving them no time to get back into the loop. Every species adapts to changes in a different way. Although we cannot control all the processes and it could be arrogant to think so that we can, we can at least try to understand them. We are a part of this problem and whatever we do is going to affect us someday. What’s more shocking is that the very things that can help us study the oceans are disappearing: corals. They have a history to tell just like ice cores.

What are scientists doing about this?

They are tackling this problem via two ways: preventive and curative strategies. Preventive strategies include reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide and creation of accurate ocean acid mapping devices. Curative strategies include iron fertilization and extraction of carbonic acid from water. Both of the strategies need extensive studies still.

What can we do about this?

Let’s not turn our back on global warming reports on the basis of lack of certainty or proof. Let’s encourage more scientific studies and theories. There are oceans of unknowns to discover.

This article was first published on  LinkedIn.

Harmon(e)y with environment

Environmental Economics on Wikipedia is a pretty good start for those who want to learn about you know – Environmental Economics. But what is it? It tells you about how we choose to use resources and how it affects our environment. If it weren’t for this, companies wouldn’t have been levied with taxes for polluting our water systems. This is just one example.

4 (15)What particularly interests me is ‘natural capital’ aka the commons or ‘open-access’ properties. World Forum on Natural Capital defines it this way:

Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things.

Everything really. Now, there’s something called as ecosystem services too, that we obtain from these natural capital. Whatever we use by altering the natural capital for our survival or luxury are ecosystem services, for example, the fuel we use. Crude oil is a natural capital and fuel is an ecosystem service.

You may be aware what will happen if we run out of natural capital. Say, fuel, what will out world look like without oil? Watch this creepy video:

As we run out of natural capital, so will we run out of ecosystem services. This is why we are turning to green chemistry, green technology, renewable energy etc. So, what can we do? There are people who do the natural capital math. It’s called Green accounting.

Oh this economics lexicon is driving me crazy. Ecological economics, green economy, green accounting, environmental economics. Argh. Nevertheless it is an important topic and there are ways to understand it. This infographic, pretty even, has a few things defined in it.

Amidst the sustainability business, what can a common man do? Plant trees? Yyyyyuuup. A good friend asked me if anything like this exists and I assured him he will have the answer to it in one of my blog articles. An act that will enable exactly this will be formulated soon in Maharashtra, India.  The Hindu states, “The Maharashtra Government is in the final stages of formulating an Act that will enable “tree credits” to be traded in the State.” Does this have some economic term too? Yup. It’s called ‘tree credits‘. Farmers will be given appropriate certification and money. Interested people can read this article that states:

The social forestry is currently inviting feedback on the project from the public. Citizens can reach the authorities at treecredit@hotmail.com.

This was going on in 2011, you might want to check if this email still exists. For tree farming outside India, Fox Business has a report.

This is not as rosy as it looks. Nature.com asks: If growing forests in India can generate lucrative carbon credits, then why isn’t everyone planting trees? Paroma Basu reports. Here’s the article that tells you why.