Resolving Ocean Acidification: Overview and big picture ideas

Dear reader,

By now you may have become a full expert on ocean acidification: We have:

  • Learned the chemistry behind ocean acidification
  • Looked at the geological past of ocean acidification
  • Watched visuals to better understand ocean acidification, from infomercials, to case studies, to Ted Talks
  • Read about ocean acidification through blogs, academic journals, newspapers, organizations
  • Learned about the impact of OA on marine life, ecosystems, and its greater implications on the global food web, human well-being, and life on earth
  • Learned that the full impacts on OA are still unknown
  • Have been schooled in the subject, and can separate bogus from truth
  • Understood that everyone on earth needs to make a difference in resolving ocean acidification: from policy makers, to industry, to scientists, to citizens, etc
  • Witnessed the greater scientific community come to consensus about OA. That it is primarily caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and that OA can be remedied if CO2 emissions are curbed
  • Witnessed the greater scientific community informing policy makers on ocean acidification
  • Witnessed the world leaders respond to the scientific community with the Sustainable Development Goals, the Kyoto Protocol, and much more that we can write about for days
  • Learned that unfortunately, without policy makers, things may not change. The Sustainable Development Goals should lead to policy forming that will curb CO2 emissions from industry, economic growth, energy use, development, consumption, etc. around the world. Without policy influence, there is little incentive for industry to not externalize their costs through polluting the atmosphere with Carbon Dioxide. Now that policy makers around the globe have committed to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions, there is international pressure to make this happen. This international pressure is needed to keep eachother in check, and to make sure we truly look to resolve this transnational problem. Because, alike industry, nations also externalize their costs when they emit high amounts of Carbon Dioxide and other countries have to pay for these costs. In turn, informed and educated citizens can make demand from the governments to enforce these policies even more. The consumer is the person carrying the voting power in the store. An informed educated person may not wish to purchase products that contribute to climate change and OA. Think about how fur coats have become unacceptable in modern society because they come from endangered animals. When the general public is informed and educated, when they truly understand the importance of recycling, energy use, pollution, production, etc, industry and behavior that degrade our environment can truly become unacceptable too. We still purchase wood furniture that is logged illegally, we still drive cars that emit significant amounts of Carbon Dioxide, we still burn coal for energy needs while we can invest in clean energy. All these practices and an infinite number more are still acceptable to the general public. Policy makers can adhere to scientific data, and improve the environment, but truly when the public begins to demand a sustainable future, policy will be even much more efficient in sustainable development than what it is today. And this can be achieved through educating the public.

Now what’s next (lowering Carbon Dioxide emissions):

  1. You can play a part in mitigating CO2 emissions too. First, become a rolemodel in reducing your own carbon emissions through any shape or form, where possible. Second, inform your friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers on your knowledge of OA. Inform them what they can do to reduce OA, how they could make lifestyle changes, how they can pressure politics and companies. And how they can make conscious product purchases
  2. Nations should educate it’s citizens on environmental sustainability, and ocean acidification
  3. Policy makers should govern with a purpose to maintain a sustainable planet today, and in the future (not solely based on maximum economic growth, and no sustainable future)
  4. The international political community should keep each other in check, and pressure one another to fully commit to Sustainability Goals as well as curbing Carbon Dioxide emissions
  5. Policy makers should keep companies in check, by not allowing them to externalize production costs through pollution. When governments take measures to penalize governments for emissions, are involved in a cap and trade system, or limit or ban emissions alltogether, companies have no other choice but to alter the way they produce products, generate energy, etc.
  6. Companies should become good stewards to the environment, and should adhere to environmental law through policy enforcement
  7. Technology can only help us so much, until thresholds are passed and we may tip into a state where recovery is difficult. Remember that chemicals have a life cycle, and ecosystem restoration is very expensive
  8. The public should keep policy and companies in check. We shouldn’t wait for governments to move to action, or for industry to change, we should call for their action today, it is good to have deadlines in 2020, in 2030, and 2050, but we need changes now. Every day of environmental degradation (such as more acidic oceans) has a major cost on society every day. Fisheries may collapse tomorrow and impact human communities who live on these fishes for income and subsistence. In addition, we shouldn’t purchase products that pollute the environment, we are also voters at the cash register. We should demand clean energy to power our homes, our cars, and more. What is the point of having a hybrid car, when the electricity used to fuel the car is generated from fossil fuels? Many people have no idea that energy comes from fossil fuels, let alone what fossil fuels do to the environment.
  9. Economic growth today should not be at the expense of economic collapse in the future (due to the massive loss of ecosystem services, the oceans being one of them when they become too acidic)
  10. Carbon taxing: by imposing a carbon tax, alike any other form of taxation, we can provide incentives for consumers and industry to seek products that are carbon neutral. If carbon tax is higher than the profits industry gets from carbon emissions, they will seek ways to clean up their products. In addition, if carbon tax is also imposed on consumer end products (double taxation) consumers prefer to spend less money where possible, and will purchase the cheaper, carbon neutral product instead.

A big picture idea that I am very enthusiastic about that can help mitigate CO2 emissions

  1. Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES)
  2. ReduceEmissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+)
    1. “Creating a mechanism by which beneficiaries of conservation pay those who produce (or choose not to degrade) ecosystem services has generated tremendous enthusiasm as a potential pathway to sustainability. Reducing emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+) has emerged as a promising “global project”, producing excitement about the potential to mitigate carbon emissions from tropical forests, and thereby reduce global GHG emissions at relatively low cost. REDD+ has been seen as a tool that could mitigate climate change, and at the same time achieve multiple “co-benefits” such as poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation” (Steven Wolf, Cornell University).

With all the knowledge that we have now accumulated, we should now go and SAVE THE OCEANS!

Resolving Ocean Acidification: Mitigating CO2 emissions through an international development agenda – the UN SDGs

Ok, as promised here is my post on the SDGs that international governments have agreed to implement.


In these goals you will see a note on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: through which countries are committed to reduce GHG emissions (including CO2 emissions) by 2020 here:

The targets to be achieved are primarily the result of the Kyoto Protocol: “an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits its Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets.”


I have listed the SDGs that look to impact COemissions (influencing ocean acidification). I have commented on these goals in bold.


Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

7.1 By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services (Hopefully modern energy services mean renewable and clean energy services)

7.2 By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix (Renewable energy emits substantially lower amounts of CO2 than fossil fuels. (Note that the substitution effect (replacement of fossil fuel driven energy) should be greater than the output effect (increase in energy needs) otherwise there will be no reduction CO2 emissions from fossil fuels)

7.3 By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency (Energy efficiency reduces energy consumption, lowering CO2 emissions from fossil fuels)

7.a By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology (Access and improvements to clean energy research will make clean energy more interesting to investors. Ultimately, with enough economic interest, hopefully clean energy can fully replace the fossil fuels, substantially reducing CO2 emissions)


Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

8.4 Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead (Resource efficiency in consumption and production, to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation is a huge section of the UN agenda. Think about how many consumer products lead to CO2 emissions throughout the product lifecycle: raw material mining, transportation, packaging, production, etc. Economic growth is always important to a country, therefore we must find a way to (hopefully 100%) decouple economic growth from environmental degradation)


Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

9.1 Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all (Hopefully sustainable infrastructure means no more forest clearing for road development. Or, unless necessary, the replanting of trees elsewhere in the event that forests must be cleared for infrastructure. Forests are carbon sinks, and cutting forests will emit CO2)

9.2 Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries (Hopefully sustainable industrialization means industry that no leads to CO2 emissions either through landuse change impacts, raw material mining, production, transportation, etc)

9.4 By 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, with all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities (Hopefully this will lead to the clean up to environment degrading industries that emit CO2)


Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

11.2 By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons (Sustainable transport systems should be energy efficient, and run on clean renewable energy)

11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries (Clean and efficient energy incorporation for future urbanization projects)

11.6 By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management (Reduce the amount of CO2 emissions per person?)

11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities (Green spaces will impact atmospheric CO2 (as vegetation sequesters CO2), and it is a great educative tool for children who grow up in an urban environment)


Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (Touched on a bunch of these throughout the previous goals. All of these seem to be able to have an impact on CO2 emissions)

12.1 Implement the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, all countries taking action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries (Decoupling the economic growth from environmental degradation)

12.2 By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources (Sustainable use of CO2 emitting natural resources, fossil fuels, vegetation, etc)

12.3 By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses (Reducing food waste lowers the need for agriculture, in turn, lowering CO2 emissions from agriculture. Agriculture is a major contributor to CO2 emissions through the entire product lifecycle, from deforestation, to land-use changes, to transportation etc)

12.4 By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment

12.5 By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse (Reduce reuse recycle should lower consumption needs or unsustainable product production which contributes to CO2 emissions)

12.6 Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle (What is the true environmental impact of transnational companies, how many of their costs are externalized? It would be nice to see these companies under pressure of the public, so that they feel the need to produce sustainably)

12.7 Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities (It is easy to be involved in procurement, and therefore not take blame for CO2 emissions. (By placing a responsibility on companies and governments in sustainable procurement practices it should encourage cleaner, environmentally friendly products that hopefully contribute to less CO2 emissions)

12.8 By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature (Very important, the public should be educated on what sustainability is, policy makers, industry, and people should all be involved in working towards a sustainable future, one without OA)


Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts* (I think this goal is pretty straight forward…)

* Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

13.1 Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries

13.2 Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning

13.3 Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning


Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

14.1 By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution (Ok, this one is a gold-mine for OA, marine pollution through CO2 is causing OA)

14.2 By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans (Hopefully this will reduce to what extend OA is currently affecting marine life)

14.3 Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels (AWESOME)


Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss (Remember, vegetation is a CO2 sink, any loss of vegetation will result in CO2 emissions, and any addition of vegetation will result in CO2 sequestration. The enforcements below address the loss and addition of vegetation)

15.1 By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements

15.2 By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and increase afforestation and reforestation by [x] per cent globally

15.3 By 2020, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and goods, and strive to achieve a land-degradation-neutral world

15.4 By 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development

15.5 Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species





Resolving Ocean Acidification: International Collaboration – From Rio+20 to Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations is the worlds biggest international government gathering in the world, and its member states have committed to sustainable development, which encompasses a reduction of CO2 emissions. Remember, carbon dioxide emissions are a transnational issue, and the world needs to collaborate on mitigating emissions. Fortunately there is the United Nations that is making the collaboration part possible.

What do we know about the United Nations, and its interest to mitigate OA and CO2 emissions (which cause OA)?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is: i) a partner of the Tara Oceans expedition, which aims to understand how planktonic life will be affected by acidification; ii) a sponsor of the International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project (IOCCP), a research and monitoring programme that focusses on the effect of CO2 emissions and marine life; iii) is a co-founder of Ocean Acidification network, an information source for ocean scientists who research ocean acidification; and most importantly iv) plays an advocating role in informing the Rio+20 preparatory process, informing that ocean acidification can be resolved through CO2 emission reductions.

The UNESCO proposal includes the following (taken from the unesco website):

  1. Launch a global inter-disciplinary program on ocean acidification risk assessment, to provide global, regional, and national forecasts, including socio-economic impacts, for use by decision makers. Include development of linkages between economists and scientists to evaluate the socioeconomic impacts. Identify ‘point of no return’ tipping points where acidification could lead to marine ecosystem collapse in selected regions most prone to acidification.
  2. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations must consider not only the effect of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the radiation balance of Earth but the negative impact on ocean chemistry and ecosystems. Results of above ‘tipping point’ analyses should inform the setting of aggressive targets and schedules for GHG reduction through shifts to low carbon energy production.
  3. Promote research and build capacity to better understand the impacts of Ocean Acidification on marine ecosystems.

Rio +20 was a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in 2012, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its overarching themes were to create a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the framework for sustainable development. A green economy would be an economy free of CO2 emissions, which creates a sustainable oceanic environment, and does not increase poverty as fisheries are no longer impacted by OA.

Pillars of Sustainable Development and SGD

United Nations pillars of sustainable development

So how do we achieve sustainable development in the context of a carbon dioxide emissions free society? According to Rio+20, it comes down to enforcement on a global, national and regional level, and they should be in the best interest of society, the economy, and the environment.

One of the main outcomes that the member states at the Rio+20 conference agreed on was the creation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). The SDGs would build upon the already in place Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and would go into effect in 2015. The MDG’s which have deadlines set for 2015 would then change their name into SDGs. The fact that the United Nations member states agreed to convert the global development agenda under the name SDGs is promising, as it shows how important sustainable development has become.

Ok, in my next post I will address the SDGs that the world leaders have agreed on implementing in the post 2015 development agenda.Specifically, I will address the SDGs that I believe will mitigate CO2 emissions substantially and in turn mitigate OA.




Resolving Ocean Acidification: Policy and Science

Now, I know that this blog post is lengthier (really it is almost triple the size of a normal post), but it is key information that should help us understand how we can resolve OA. With the information I am presenting in this post, you will learn that policy makers do know what is causing OA.

In this blog I have discussed many scientific papers that clearly state the expected threats of OA. Evidence is clear and coherent, enough to convince policy makers to move to action. Still, an academic paper may not do the job to attract the attention of a policy maker that is involved in all sorts of political issues. Moreover, policy makers may not know enough about OA to understand an academic paper.

Now, we may wonder, is there an informative branch of climate change science that can properly distill scientific information, and inform policy makers? Is there an organization that collaborates transnationally on climate change issues (including ocean acidification)? Yes and yes, and its’ name is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Thousands of scientists from over the world contribute voluntarily to the work of the IPCC. The IPCC reviews, and ensures a complete and objective interpretation of globally collected climate change data.

“The Secretariat coordinates all the IPCC work and liaises with Governments. It is supported byWMO and UNEP and hosted at WMO headquarters in Geneva. The IPCC is an intergovernmental body. It is open to all member countries of the United Nations (UN) and WMO. Currently 195 countries are members of the IPCC. Governments participate in the review process and the plenary Sessions, where main decisions about the IPCC work programme are taken and reports are accepted, adopted and approved. The IPCC Bureau Members, including the Chair, are also elected during the plenary Sessions. Because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive.”

It seems that we have resolved a major component of the previous video: there is a branch where science can inform policy makers properly. In addition, 195 countries are a member of the IPCC, and they should make a combined effort to resolve OA.



For the second half of this post, we will look at the IPCC’s findings on OA.

According to the latest IPCC report (2014 – ar5):

  • There is high confidence that ocean acidification will increase for centuries if CO2 emissions continue, and will strongly affect marine ecosystems. {2.4}
  • About half of the cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2011 have occurred in the last 40 years (high confidence). About 40% of these anthropogenic CO2 emissions have remained in the atmosphere (880 ± 35 GtCO2) since 1750. The rest was removed from the atmosphere by sinks, and stored in natural carbon cycle reservoirs. Sinks from ocean uptake and vegetation with soils account, in roughly equal measures, for the remainder of the cumulative CO2 emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic CO2, causing ocean acidification. {WGI 3.8.1, 6.3.1}
  • The overall risks of future climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change, including ocean acidification.
  • Projected pH IPCC

IPCC report diagram showing the trend of atmospheric CO2 PPM, associated pH levels, and associated impacts on marine species.

  • Marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs and polar ecosystems, are at risk from ocean acidification (medium to high confidence). Ocean acidification has impacts on the physiology, behaviour and population dynamics of organisms. The impacts on individual species and the number of species affected in species groups increase from RCP4.5 to RCP8.5. Highly calcified molluscs, echinoderms and reef-building corals are more sensitive than crustaceans (high confidence) and fishes (low confidence) (Figure 2.6b). Ocean acidification acts together with other global changes (e.g., warming, progressively lower oxygen levels) and with local changes (e.g., pollution, eutrophication) (high confidence), leading to interactive, complex and amplified impacts for species and ecosystems.
  • Projected CO2 and pH IPCC

The IPCC worst case scenario predicts a drop to 7.75 global surface ocean pH by the end of the century, along with an increase to 100 GtCO2/yr. The best case scenario, pH will stabilize at 8.05 with a reduction to 0 GtCO2/yr at the end of the century.

The IPCC report on climate change is extensive, and for some complicated. Academic information on OA should be distilled, into a short, concise, clear, reliable, and readable document that can properly inform policy makers about the issue. Fortunately, the IPCC has created such a document, and it can be found here:

According to the IPCC, CO2 is the culprit to ocean acidification. If we can eliminate CO2 emissions, we can resolve ocean acidification. Therefore, in the following posts, let’s look at what policy makers are doing in response to the IPCC report. And, let’s explore some “big picture” ideas that could seriously mitigate or eliminate CO2 emissions.


Solutions to Ocean Acidification

Here we are. Congratulations. Together we have made it to this part of the blog. Have you been feeling the urge to solve ocean acidification (OA) now that you know so much about it?

I sure do, but since the oceans make up 3/4ths of the earths surface, the answer to this vast transnational problem may not be as easy as we hope it is. I am sure we all know about the environmental pollution lecture where we spoke about transnational problems, OA is one of them. Oceans globally are affected by OA, and equally so, any nation involved in emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is a contributor to the problem.

So, where do we begin?

I found this interesting video on YouTube that first gives a brief overview on OA, and the importance of our oceans, but most importantly, it talks about solutions of OA.

Being a visual learner, this video served as a source of inspiration, and we will explore our options from here on.

While the video doesn’t give many concrete answers on how we should resolve OA, it does make some good points. Overall, the video argues that policy makers, scientists, industry, and society all need to collaborate together to solve OA. Scientists need to make a strong enough case to convince policy makers to make a difference. Policy makers can influence both industry and citizens. Citizens and industry can contribute as good stewards. By getting all the stakeholders in one room, there will be clarity, unity, understanding and purpose.

But, one speaker in the video states the most important fact, which is that at the root of ocean acidification is environmental pollution through carbon dioxide emissions. And, he continues: ” carbon dioxide is related to energy. Energy is related to economic growth. Therefore, as we argue that we need to reduce the threat of climate change and/or ocean acidification, we will have to change the way we produce and use energy, and the way we manage our land as well.”

This video inspired me to look for answers, what are policy makers currently doing about OA. What are scientists informing we should do? Most importantly, how can we curb our carbon dioxide emissions without affecting economies, while maintaining a flux of energy, etc? Let’s find out!

A comment on Ocean Acidification reporting by news reporting agencies

After becoming increasingly more knowledgeable on the subject of ocean acidification, I decided to take a step back out of the academic world. Instead, I felt the need to judge how well informed news papers are on OA, as well as how well they inform the general public.

Now that we finally understand that ocean acidification will have a physiological impact on almost all marine life forms, we can understand how gravely impacted our oceans could become as a result of ocean acidification. It now makes a lot of sense that the big five extinctions were associated to massive greenhouse gas releases and acidic oceans.

Though, surprisingly, newspaper sources still predominantly report on shell forming organisms and coral reefs being affected by OA, but all the other consequences of OA are left in the dark. Why? Perhaps because the subject of OA is too vast to discuss in one newspaper article. Or perhaps journalists do not spend enough time fully researching the subject, and simply recite what other journalists have reported in the past. Or perhaps there is another hidden agenda that has an interest to downplay the impact of OA: how many people will really care about losing some coral reefs and some lobsters? Probably a whole lot of more people will care about OA once they understand that it will most likely affect almost the entire marine food web once acidity surpasses certain thresholds to where species can no longer adapt. But how do you inform the general public properly? Through the media, right?

Why do I believe that media is not properly informing the general public? I googled the term Ocean Acidification along with major news reporting sources: The New York Times, Washington Times, Guardian (this source actually did quite well in reporting on OA), Huffington Post, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Tribune.

The Guardian

Ocean Acidification New York Times

The Guardian Results vs. New York Times Results

I recommend anyone who would like to read about environmental issues in the media, such as OA to consult the Guardian. The Guardian gave a total of 990 results when searching for “Ocean Acidification on their respective website. The New York Times gave 170 results.


Source: acidification

Ocean Acidification – Ecosystem Services Impacts IV: Supporting Services – the Nitrogen Cycle

This post is a continuation of the previous three posts. I will review supporting ecosystem services that are being impacted by ocean acidification (OA). Supporting ecosystem services affected by ocean acidification was challenging to understand, but writing this post helped me understand it better.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, supporting services include “nutrient cycling and primary production which underlie the delivery of all the other services but are not directly accessible to people” (UNEP 2005). Specifically, according to Cooley, nutrient cycling is performed by coastal food webs, as well as coral reefs.

First it should be understood that the primary impact of OA on nutrient cycling is its impact on the carbon cycle. The drop in pH is reducing the calcium carbonate saturation, a compound that crustaceans, corals, and mollusks use to build their shells and exo-skeletons. Though this information is covered in previous posts, we may be curious to understand what other forms of nutrient cycling is impacted by ocean. According to blog-site the Scientific American, a CO2 induced acidity increase can disrupt the marine nitrogen cycle.

Nitrate, a form of nitrogen, is a nutrient needed by many plants and marine microorganisms to survive. Nitrate is created after certain microorganisms perform nitrification, where ammonium is converted to nitrate. According to the Scientific American, several studies indicate that a pH reduces the rate of nitrification, thus affecting various sorts of marine life. In one study, four separate ocean locations were sampled, and compared with unaffected control groups. The outcome of the study indicated that ocean acidification slowed nitrification between 8 to 38 percent.

Ocean nitrogen cycle and nitrification


The oceanic nitrogen cycle. Nitrfication is a conversion of Ammonium (NH4+) to Nitrate (NO3)

According to Beman (who performed this study, and published in December 21, by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011): “less nitrification would make fewer nitrates available to the plants and organisms that use them to make vital proteins, making it more difficult for them to thrive. This in turn means less food would be available to the animals that eat those nitrate-using organisms,” impacting entire food webs.

While we just became experts on calcifiers impacted by OA, this new found knowledge just opened a whole new can of worms. Research should further investigate to what extend ecosystem services are impacted by the reduced rate of nitrification as a result of OA.

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (2005):

Source: Sarah R. Cooley et al. (2009), Ocean Acidification’s Potential to Alter Global Marine Ecosystem Services

Source: Scientific American:

Ocean Acidification – Ecosystem Services Impacts III: Cultural Services

This post is a continuation of the previous two posts, and I will review cultural ecosystem services that are being impacted by ocean acidification. It is extremely important to understand how ocean acidification is impacting various ecosystem services. This allows to understand why we should care about ocean acidification. Like the previous posts, I will use the paper from tutorial 4, “Ocean Acidification’s Potential to Alter Global Marine Ecosystem Services,” by Sara R. Cooley et al. (2009) as a point of reference.

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, cultural ecosystem services include recreational services as well as ecotourism (UNEP, 2015). In addition, according to Cooley, cultural ecosystem services also include aesthetic and spiritual benefits (Cooley et al., 2009). These four ecosystem services generated by the ocean provide a source of income for many coastal communities, especially in coastal communities in developing countries where ecotourism is a significant slice of their income. Ecotourism also gives various communities a sense of identity, as it is rooted in culture and religion.

Coral reef ecotourism

Ecotourism of Coral reefs: Experts say ecotourism is harming coral reef health (Singer, 2015).

Recreational fishing generates direct and indirect income to many nation-states globally, developing and developed. In the United States alone, “recreational saltwater fishing accounted for US$43 billion in expenditures in 2000, including all indirect expenditures on services equipment, and travel” (Cooley et al., 2009). To sketch the economic significance of recreational fishing, according to Cooley, it is possible that the total economic value generated by recreational fishing equals the total economic value generated by commercial fishing.

The take away message here is that ocean acidification can significantly impact the marine food web. And by doing so, fishes that are of importance to recreational fisherman will be affected as well, leading to significant economic losses. In addition, significant amount of marine ecotourism exists as people enjoy coral reefs, specific fish species, and other marine ecosystems that may be lost due to ocean acidification, which will significantly impact coastal communities. How will coastal communities that make a living from coral reef ecotourists once these coral reefs cease to exist?

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (2005):

Source: Sarah R. Cooley et al. (2009), Ocean Acidification’s Potential to Alter Global Marine Ecosystem Services

Source: Marie Singer, Market Business News, “Experience Coral Reefs in a spectacular virtual dive at London’s Natural History Museum,”

Ocean Acidification – Ecosystem Services Impacts II: Regulation Services

This post is a continuation of the previous post, and I will review regulating ecosystem services that are being impacted by ocean acidification. Like the previous post, I will use the paper from tutorial 4, “Ocean Acidification’s Potential to Alter Global Marine Ecosystem Services,” by Sara R. Cooley et al. (2009) as a point of reference.

Regulating ecosystem services are defined by the United Nations Environment Programme under “climate, water, natural hazard and disease regulation, water purification and waste treatment, which are often strongly affected by the overuse of provisioning services” (UNEP, 2005).

Regulating services affected by ocean acidification is shoreline protection by coral reefs. According to one of my classes, the Biophysical Environment of Singapore, coral reefs can significantly reduce the energy of a lower wave orbit, preventing damaging waves to reach shorelines, or reducing the velocity of a wave (figure 1). According to Cooley, coral reefs physically buffer coastal zones from storm waves and tsunamis. Without them, lossess would be greater, and coastal development would be more expensive,” such as having to construct seashore fortification like seawalls (Cooley et al., 2009).

Wave energy

Figure 1. Wave energy transfers through layered wave orbits. Friess (2015).

The Indo-Pacific, a region where Southeast Asia is located, is the world’s Coral Triangle as it encompasses 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs (Fries, 2015). This region has been struck by devastating tsunamis, the most memorable one being the tsunami in 2004, which killed over 225,000 people and displaced an estimate 1.2 million people (WHO, 2005). Imagine how much more catastrophic the damage of this tsunami would have been had there not been these coral reefs.

Source: Dan Fries (2015), Biophysical Environments of Singapore Lecture, NUS

Source: World Health Organization (2005):

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (2005):

Source: Sarah R. Cooley et al. (2009), Ocean Acidification’s Potential to Alter Global Marine Ecosystem Services

Ocean Acidification – Ecosystem Services Impacts I: Provisioning Services

In this post, and subsequent posts, I will review marine ecosystem services that are impacted by ocean acidification by using a paper discussed in Tutorial 4 of the Environmental Pollution class. The paper, titled: “Ocean Acidification’s Potential to Alter Global Marine Ecosystem Services,” by Sara R. Cooley et al. (2009).

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (2005), ecosystem services are divided into four categories: provisioning, regulation, culture, and support (Figure 1). The relationship between humans and the marine environment is generally linked via one of these four ecosystem services. The exact measure of the impact of services provided by marine ecosystems is challenging as certain services, such as providing an income for fisheries, are quantifiable, but other services, such as providing cultural identity, are qualitative.

Ecosystem Services UNEP


Figure 1. Schematic representation of ecosystem services as defined by the United Nations Environmental Programme (2015).

Provisioning services affected by ocean acidification are Mollusks and Crustacaean populations that are effected through reduced saturation states of Calcium Carbonate, an essential shell forming compound. Commercial and recreational fisheries depend on these species for livelihood as it is a product that allows them to trade in the cash economy. Second, coral reef ecosystems are too heavily impacted by reduced saturation states of Calcium Carbonate, these coral reefs may dissolve when a certain threshold is surpassed. Coral reefs provide provisioning services, as they generate income in various regions in the tropics to commercial, subsistence, and recreational fisheries. It doesn’t end here, calcifying organisms also provide aesthetically valued products on the global market, such as shells coral pieces, and pearls.

Ocean acidification also indirectly impacts other species, such as the predatory finfish. The predatory finfish experience increased competition for food sources due to a decline in small calcifier populations (larval mollusks, corals, and planktonic pteropods). This decline in finfish populations and species diversity, impacting commercial fisheries.

According to Sarah R. Cooley et al. (2009), “the first sale values of global marine capture fisheries and aquaculture were about US$91.2 billion and US$78.8 billion respectively, in 2006. Global fisheries associated with coral reefs alone are valued at US$5.7 billion annually.” Given these statistics, and the knowledge of the impact that ocean acidification may have on fisheries, there will be a significant economic impact if the current trend of ocean acidification continues, and threaten the lives of many millions of people.

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (2005):

Source: Sarah R. Cooley et al. (2009), Ocean Acidification’s Potential to Alter Global Marine Ecosystem Services

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