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Friday, June 21
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

COLUMN: Citizens need to pay more attention to oceanic acidification

Ocean acidification is the process in which carbon dioxide emissions dissolve into seawater. This causes some pretty nasty side effects, including a decreasing pH that, in turn, makes the Global Ocean more acidic.

It’s no question we emit too much carbon dioxide, and the obvious response to the problem is to emit less. The response is hackneyed for a reason. It’s the best and cheapest.

So much carbon dioxide gets into our oceans because it readily dissolves in water. The carbon dioxide must then exist in equilibrium with other compounds. Then hydrogen ions are released into the water. It’s these hydrogen ions that lower pH. It’s simple; less carbon dioxide equals less hydrogen ions, which causes less of an effect on pH.

Arguments against the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions reasons that reducing emissions only lengthens the demise of our oceans. But like desserts, carbon dioxide would be fine in moderation.

Primary producers, or phytoplankton, in the oceans take in dissolved carbon dioxide and use it to produce food and oxygen byproduct. Though these organisms take in about 30 to 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, they have a limit — and increasing surface temperatures from the same carbon dioxide lowers the ocean’s pH and makes it less hospitable.

So now reduced emissions are having a compounding effect: lower emissions reduce the rate of global warming, which makes the surface temperatures friendlier for the phytoplankton. Reproduction of the phytoplankton increases their numbers and the rate at which they can then take in carbon dioxide and bring the pH to balance.

If we don’t change our ways, we’re only going to be hurting ourselves. Among the hardest regions hit in the United States is the Northwest, where shellfisheries are prominent. Lowered pH stops shellfish from producing the calcium carbonate that makes up their shells. This creates smaller shellfish populations and smaller catch for the shellfisheries. Even worse, it affects the food chain.

It’s unrealistic to think carbon dioxide emissions can be cut out completely, but if enough people can make a small change, we can expect to see a healthier sea.

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