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Ocean Acidification

Educational Outreach


Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is one of the most common gases in the Earth's atmosphere and is one of the major greenhouse gases. We are constantly breathing it out, but that is not the only source, emissions from burning fossil fuels (such as car exhaust) also increases the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are now increasing at a faster rate than naturally and this predicament is causing a change in the global climate.

Part of the problem is that the world's oceans naturally serve as a reservoir for CO2. At the surface of the oceans, CO2 mixes with the seawater and forms a weak acid called carbonic acid (H2CO3). With the higher levels of CO2, more carbonic acid is being produced which increases the acidity of the ocean.

Why does Ocean Acidification matter?

The higher acidity causes some marine animals, such as shellfish and corals, to have difficulty making their own shell or skeleton. This causes slower growth, thinner, shells, more brittle skeletons, all of which prevents these animals from thriving in their natural habitat. This process could cause a disruption in the oceanic food chain.

Other oceanic organisms may actually benefit from OA. Marine plants such as sea grasses and algae "breathe" in carbon dioxide, so the increased levels of carbon dioxide could make them grow faster.

What are we doing on the Arctic Cruise?

We will be testing seawater from many places and depths in the Arctic Ocean to take a more detailed look at ocean acidification in polar regions.

Classroom Resources

Video Podcast - Ocean Acidification: Research on Top of the World
Download video: MP4, OGG, WEBM, MOV | transcript

Marine Life on AcidMarine Life on Acid - Predicting future biodiversity in our changing oceans
Increased acidity makes life more difficult for species that absorb carbonate from the water to build their shells and skeletons, such as snails and corals. As acidity levels rise, those shells and skeletons begin to dissolve.
Published in BioScience, 63(5):322-328, 2013.
Written by Lesley Evans Ogden (web site and Twitter feed).

Using nuclear science to study ocean acidification (video)Using nuclear science to study ocean acidification (video)
Marine scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency's Environment Laboratories in Monaco are using a range of nuclear and isotopic techniques to study ocean acidification, and the impacts it is having and will have on marine life, seafood safety and food security.

Ocean Acidification lesson plans and Power Point presentations

Coral Sand and Vinegar Activity (160 KB PDF)
School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, Univ. of Hawaii

Data in the Classroom teacher guide to Ocean Acidification and classroom activities
NOAA Ocean Data Education (NODE) Project

Ridgeway School Ocean Acidification Animation
European Project on OCean Acidification (EPOCA)

Hands on Ocean Acidification Experiments
European Project on OCean Acidification (EPOCA)

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