Ocean Acidification – Effects, Solution, Causes of Ocean Acidification

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Ocean Acidification is an increase in the level of acid in the ocean. The primary reason suggested by the scientists for this is the heavy release of carbon dioxide into the environment, which is being absorbed by the ocean. Ocean acidification is directly affecting each and every life in the ocean.

Ocean acidification directly depends on the level of carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean. The more the absorption of carbon dioxide, the more acidic the ocean becomes. Let us understand the primary cause of ocean acidification, its effects, reactions explaining the phenomenon, and other essential facts which will help us understand the gravity of this danger.

What is Ocean Acidification?

Ocean acidification begins with the heavy release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is a phenomenon happening in the oceans across Earth. The acidic level of the oceans is gradually increasing because of the high carbon dioxide intake. The carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean reacts with the water to produce carbonic acid, which further dissipates into H+ ions and bicarbonate ions. This is the primary cause of Ocean Acidification.

On the release of high H+ ions, the pH value of the water decreases, making it acidic in nature, and the ocean salinity decreases. It is measured that the amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean has decreased the average pH value (a scale used to measure the acidic or basic nature) of the ocean from 8.25 to 8.14 between 1751 to 2021.

pH Value of Ocean

Ocean acidification directly relates to the pH value of the ocean. The pH value refers to the amount of H+ ion present in the aqueous solution. The pH scale carries values between 0 to 14, where 7 represents neutral. The acidic nature increases on going towards 0 from 7, whereas the basic nature increases on going 14 from 7. The pH scale is indirectly proportional to the number of H+ ions in the aqueous solution.

A recent study shows that the current average pH value of the ocean is near 8.14, which means that over the years acidity of the ocean or the ocean acidification has increased to a great extent as it is a logarithmic value. A small change in the pH scale corresponds to 10 fold change in the H+ ions.

Causes of Ocean Acidification

The primary cause of ocean acidification is the release of high H+ ions into the ocean. The H+ ions are released after the reaction of carbon dioxide and water. The complete reaction that occurs in the ocean is shown below:

CO2(aq) + H2O ⇌ H2CO3 ⇌ HCO3− + H+ ⇌ CO32− + 2 H+

The amount of H+ ions has increased because of excess carbon dioxide being trapped by the ocean from the atmosphere. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has drastically increased because of the excessive fuel burned and other human activities.

The increase of the CO2 in the atmosphere is majorly caused by:

  • The burning of fossil fuels
  • Increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the oceans
  • The industrial revolution led to an increase in pollution
  • Increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
  • The loss of biodiversity
  • Increase in the concentration of hydrogen ions due to the chemical reaction.
  • Lack of eco-friendly laws and regulations
  • A decrease in carbonate ions

Effects of Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification is considered a cause of worry because it directly impacts the ocean ecosystem. Various drastic impacts of it can be seen or predicted in the future. Some of them are as follows:

  • The increase in CO2 decreases the amount of carbonate, directly impacting the lives of various organisms in the ocean.
  • Coral reefs are degrading.
  • It directly impacts marine life as various shelled animals, such as clams, starfish, urchins, etc., cannot easily build their shells.
  • Impacts the ocean deposits
  • Loss of marine plants.
  • Loss of marine animals.
  • Loss of marine biodiversity
  • Disturbance in the food chain
  • Impacts the Ocean relief
  • The local economy is decreased due to the lack of fish and other marine products.
  • A decline in tourism.

Ocean Acidification Solutions

The adverse effects of ocean acidification are noticeable and suggest controlling carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. If the released amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is controlled, less absorption of it will occur in the ocean, which will help in buffering. This buffering will normalize the pH level of the ocean.

Here are a few solutions for ocean acidification control:

  • Reducing the use of fossil fuels
  • Increasing the use of eco-friendly fuels
  • Use of technology for reducing pollution
  • Making strict regulations
  • Spreading awareness
  • Promotion of environmentally friendly initiatives
  • Using Geo-engineering to control the pH value

Ocean Acidification UPSC

Ocean Acidification is essential for the candidates preparing for the IAS exam. Candidates can expect the question in the interview or objective exams based on this topic. Over the years, it has been considered an essential segment in the Geography and Science syllabus.

An IAS Officer is expected to know and clearly understand the topic. Ocean acidification has a huge impact on the marine environment, making it a point of concern for humans as we have triggered this change in the ecosystem and affected various lives.

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