Ocean Acidification occurs when atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the ocean. As the CO2 is dissolved, a chemical process occurs that causes the ocean to become more acidic. Unlike climate change, acidification is easy to prove. It is simple water chemistry that is easy to measure; it is observable, and it is clearly happening. Over the past 200 years, CO2 absorption has caused the ocean’s pH to decline by .1 (30%). This is 100 times faster than any change experienced in the ocean over the past 20 million years. If we continue to produce CO2 at the current rate, the ocean’s pH could drop another .3 units by 2100 – a 150% increase in acidity.
These changes threaten many forms of marine life. In general, any organisms that rely on calcium carbonate to form shells have increasing difficulty doing so as oceans acidify. This means that many forms of plankton, which form the base of the food web, may literally dissolve. In addition, coral reefs have difficulty rebuilding in acidic oceans, and are far less resilient. If the base of the food web is decimated, and critical habitat disappears, the ripple effects could be devastating for ocean health.
Clearly, action is needed. Ocean Champions in Congress have introduced legislation in the House and Senate to address ocean acidification and other critical ocean issues:
- Senators Whitehouse and Snowe introduced the National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) in May, 2011. NEO would establish the first ever fund for ocean conservation, and would support activities to restore, protect, maintain or improve our understanding of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes health. “This legislation will help protect our oceans and coasts, and the natural resources they provide, so they may continue to support jobs for generations to come,” said Senator Whitehouse.
- Senate champion Boxer and House champions Garamendi and Capps have introduced legislation in 2011(S.171 West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2011) to protect the west coast by prohibiting offshore drilling on the outer Continental Shelf off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.
- In the 111th Congress, House champion Baird and Senator Lautenberg took a leadership role in introducing legislation that will address ocean acidification: The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009. The bill passed and was enacted as part of the Public Lands omnibus on March 30, 2009.
- Congressman Markey, of course, led the Waxman-Markey Climate bill to passage in the House in June, 2009: H.R. 2454 American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This legislation aimed to create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy.
- Together with Inslee, Markey introduced H. Res. 989 in December of 2009 calling for the U.S. to adopt national policies and pursue international agreements to prevent ocean acidification, to study the impacts of ocean acidification, and to address the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and coastal communities.
- Numerous champions are advocates for clean energy, check out their bios for more details.
- ABC News Story
- NOAA’s Jane Lubchenco on restoring science to U.S. climate policy
- NOAA’s PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory)
- NOAA’s Richard Freely (source: www.pmel.noaa.gov)
- WHOI Senior Scientist’s Testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard
O.C. Blog Posts
- The World's Oceans are in Big Trouble - But We Can Help
- The National Endowment for the Oceans: Investing in Our Oceans' Future
- What Obama's Budget Proposal Means for the Oceans
- Trading Away Our Coral Reefs
- Useful Rebuttals to Popular Environmental Misconceptions over Thanksgiving Dinner
- Ocean Warrior Paddles the Pacific Coast
- CO2, Climategate, the Oceans and Other Musings
- It’s The CO2
- Ocean Acidification – Coming to a Coast Near You!