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[greenyes] Impact of CO2 Increases on Oceans

The Independent

Seas turn to acid as they absorb global pollution
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
01 August 2004
The world's oceans are sacrificing themselves to try to stave off global
warming, a major international research programme has discovered.

Their waters have absorbed about half of the carbon dioxide emitted by human
activities over the past two centuries, the 15-year study has found. Without
this moderating effect, climate change would have been much more rapid and

But in the process the seas have become more acid, threatening their very
life. The research warns that this could kill off their coral reefs,
shellfish and plankton, on which all marine life depends.

News of the alarming conclusions of the research - headed by US government
scientists - follows the discovery, reported in Friday's Independent, of a
catastrophic failure of North Sea birds to breed this summer, thought to be
the result of global warming.

The disaster - forecast in The Independent on Sunday last October - appears
to have been caused by plankton moving hundreds of miles to the north to
escape from an unprecedented warming on the sea's waters. Sand eels -
millions of which normally provide the staple diet of many seabirds and
large fish - have disappeared, because they, in turn, depend on the

The new study warns of an even more alarming collapse throughout the world's
oceans if climate change continues. It is the result of a mammoth research
effort, which has taken and analysed 72,000 samples of seawater from 10,000
different places in the oceans since 1989.

Led by scientists working for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration in Seattle, it has also involved teams of researchers from
Australia, Canada, Spain, Japan, South Korea and Germany.

It has discovered, for the first time, that the seas and oceans have soaked
up almost half of all human emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of
global warming, since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

By doing so they have greatly slowed climate change, and almost certainly
prevented it from already causing catastrophe.

"The oceans are performing this tremendous service to humankind by reducing
the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," says Dr Christopher Sabine,
one of the leaders of the research. But, he adds, this is coming at a great
cost because the act of salvage "is changing the chemistry of the oceans".

The research concludes that "dramatic changes", such as have not occurred
for at least 20 million years, now appear to be under way. They could have
"significant impacts on the biological systems of the oceans in ways that we
are only beginning to understand".

As the water naturally absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, it forms
carbonic acid. And the acid then mops up calcium carbonate, a substance
normally plentiful in the oceans that sea creatures use to make the
protective shells that they need to survive.


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