Estimated change in annual mean sea surface pH between the pre-industrial period (1700s) and the present day (1990s). ΔpH here is in standard pH units. Calculated from fields of dissolved inorganic carbon and alkalinity from the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project climatology and temperature and salinity from the World Ocean Atlas (2005) climatology using Richard Zeebe's csys package. Plumbago, 28 April 2009, via Wikimedia

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent; editing by Sandra Maler
WASHINGTON
Thu Apr 22, 2010 2:53pm EDT

(Reuters) - Carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming are also turning the oceans more acidic at the fastest pace in hundreds of thousands of years, the National Research Council reported Thursday.

"The chemistry of the ocean is changing at an unprecedented rate and magnitude due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions," the council said. "The rate of change exceeds any known to have occurred for at least the past hundreds of thousands of years."

Ocean acidification eats away at coral reefs, interferes with some fish species' ability to find their homes and can hurt commercial shellfish like mussels and oysters and keep them from forming their protective shells.

Corrosion happens when carbon dioxide is stored in the oceans and reacts with sea water to form carbonic acid. Unless carbon dioxide emissions are curbed, oceans will grow more acidic, the report said.

Oceans absorb about one-third of all human-generated carbon dioxide emissions, including those from burning fossil fuels, cement production and deforestation, the report said.

The increase in acidity is 0.1 points on the 14-point pH scale, which means this indicator has changed more since the start of the Industrial Revolution than at any time in the last 800,000 years, according to the report. …

"This increase in (ocean) acidity threatens to decimate entire species, including those that are at the foundation of the marine food chain," Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey told a Commerce Committee panel. "If that occurs, the consequences are devastating." …

Ocean chemistry changing at 'unprecedented rate'

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