Ocean Acidity and the Underwater Ecosystem

As carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere, the amount of CO2 absorbed by ocean water (and freshwater, as we are now learning) begins to increase. Rising levels of carbon dioxide drop the PH of these bodies of water, and the increasing acidity causes a level of harm to ocean life that scientists are only beginning to understand.

Delicate life forms like coral reefs have already been visibly devastated by ocean acidity. But all other species that depend on calcium for the integrity of their shells and body structures are also being affected, and of course all other life forms that depend on these hard-bodied creatures are also under pressure to find food sources, shelter, and the resources necessary for survival.

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This article provides a broad overview of some of the implications of recent studies showing rising acidity in both seawater and freshwater lakes and rivers. The primary take-home from broad strokes discussions like this one: research on these topics is sparse, and far more studies need to be done regarding all aspects of the CO2 absorption process and its impact on specific species and interconnected ecosystems.

In just one example, researchers have observed a tiny humble creature, the water flea, which is positioned at the base of a vast and complex food chain. The water flea uses chemical signals in the environment to detect the presence of nearby predators, and then responds by making itself more difficult to eat. For example, the flea and similar species tend to grow a calcium-based head crest or body spikes that make them larger or sharper or less appetizing.

As these defenses diminish in response to rising ocean acidity, the impact on water flea populations will have cascading effects on all other life forms that depend on them.

Contact our team if you’re looking for opportunities to join research efforts in this area, or you’re currently involved in this process and you’d like to stay connected to a community that shares the goal of understanding climate change and its impacts.