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Synthesis Study Finds Ocean Acidification from CO2 Emissions Could Increase by 150% by 2050; Substantial Irreversible Damage to Ocean Ecosystems

Given increasing emissions of CO2 and the subsequent increased absorption by the oceans, ocean acidity could increase by 150% by 2050, according to a major new review and synthesis study released by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This is an increase 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years, giving little time for evolutionary adaptation within biological systems, the report says.

The launch of the study—Scientific Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biological Diversity—was prepared in collaboration with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and marked Oceans Day during the current climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. The study presents a review and synthesis of existing literature and other scientific information on the potential impacts of ocean acidification on marine biodiversity.

The global atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased from a pre-industrial value of 280 ppm to 384 ppm, leading to a 30% increase in the acidity of the oceans. This significant increase is 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment for the last 20 million years and represents a rare geological event in the Earth’s history.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are predicted to increase throughout the 21st century and could exceed 800 ppm by 2100 if anthropogenic emissions continue along current trends. Ocean acidification is a direct consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations that is occurring independently of climate change. It can be predicted with a high level of certainty based on the complex but predictable marine carbonate chemistry reactions and cycles of CO2 as it dissolves in seawater. Ocean acidification will follow the accelerating trend in world CO2 emissions, leading to a 150–185% increase in acidity by 2100, under current emission rates (a decrease of 0.4–0.45 pH units).

...Increasing ocean acidification reduces the availability of carbonate minerals in seawater, important building blocks for marine plants and animals. Carbonate ion concentrations are now lower than at any other time during the last 800,000 years. Furthermore, given current emission rates, it is predicted that the surface waters of the highly productive Arctic Ocean will become under-saturated with respect to essential carbonate minerals by the year 2032, and the Southern Ocean by 2050 with disruptions to large components of the marine food web. Seasonal fluctuations in carbonate mineral saturation in the Southern Ocean could mean that detrimental conditions for the continuing function of marine ecosystems, especially calcifying organisms, develop on much shorter timeframes.

—Scientific Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification

According to the study, seas and oceans absorb approximately one quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and other human activities. As more and more carbon dioxide has been emitted into the atmosphere, the oceans have absorbed greater amounts at increasingly rapid rates. Without this level of absorption by the oceans, atmospheric CO2 levels would be significantly higher than at present and the effects of global climate change would be more marked. However, the absorption of atmospheric CO2 results in changes to the chemical balance of the oceans, causing them to become more acidic.

Ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years, and substantial damage to ocean ecosystems can only be avoided by urgent and rapid reductions in global emissions of CO2. Attention must be given for integration of this critical issue at the global climate change debate in Copenhagen.

This CBD study provides a valuable synthesis of scientific information on the impacts of ocean acidification, based on the analysis of more than 300 scientific literatures, and it describes an alarming picture of possible ecological scenarios and adverse impacts of ocean acidification on marine biodiversity.

—Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention

Among other findings, the study shows that increasing ocean acidification will mean that by 2100 some 70% of cold water corals, a key refuge and feeding ground for commercial fish species, will be exposed to corrosive waters.

In addition, given the current emission rates, it is predicted that the surface water of the highly productive Arctic Ocean will become under-saturated with respect to essential carbonate minerals by the year 2032, and the Southern Ocean by 2050 with disruptions to large components of the marine food source, in particular those calcifying species, such as foraminifera, pteropods, coccolithophores, mussels, oysters, shrimps, crabs and lobsters, which rely on calcium to grow and mature.

An emerging body of research suggests that many of the effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms and ecosystems will be variable and complex and will affect different species in different ways. Evidence from naturally acidified locations confirms, however, that although some species may benefit, biological communities under acidified seawater conditions are less diverse and calcifying (calcium-reliant) species absent.

Many questions remain regarding the biological and biogeochemical consequences of ocean acidification for marine biodiversity and ecosystems, and the impacts of these changes on oceanic ecosystems and the services they provide, for example, in fisheries, coastal protection, tourism, carbon sequestration and climate regulation.

Launched at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits from the utilization of genetic resources. The headquarters of the Secretariat of the Convention is located in Montreal.



Will S

"This is an increase 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years, giving little time for evolutionary adaptation within biological systems"

This says it all. Goodbye seafood if we don't radically change our energy consumption patterns.

The Goracle


Could Increase by 150% by 2050...

LOL!!! Once again the key word "could" is thrown in (X years from now when proved wrong: "Look, you HATER, we said could... not WILL.") as well as some date so far off that it truly is a completely meaningless statement.

Who, exactly is FUNDING this "science?" What kinds of extreme profits/wages/retirement plans are being raked in by "studying" these issues and coming up with the "correct" result?

We need to take DRASTIC measures - MASSIVE tax increases and draconian loss of freedom because "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't.... " - Kevin Trenberth, one of the leading authors of the IPCC report on climate change.

Science... LOL!!! Follow the $$$$$$$$$$$



Again, who is funding the Goracle, stan peterson? Exxon Mobile, OPEC ?

Aaron Turpen

Treehugger: Probbly the same peopel who're funding the IPCC's lobby groups. That would be Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, the WWF, the DOE, a myriad of investment companies, several investment banks, etc. You know, everyone who has a financial interest in screwing everyone else.

Who's funding YOU?

As for this study, I have a question... I thought CO2 levels were going to rise exponentially when the supposed warming heated up the oceans so they released more CO2? Now they're absorbing it instead? WTF? Which is it? You can't have both.

Wake up and smell the malarky, people. This isn't about the environment, it's about MONEY. Why do you think all your precious climate change activist groups are being shut out of the talks at COP15? Because it's the BANKERS and BUSINESS who are running the show, and NOT concern for nature and the environment.

Once again I ask: when are we going to stop playing around with this stupid CO2 distraction and start talking about REAL environmental problems?


Indeed, Goracle is just a mouthpiece for the carbon-lobby PR firms' talking points.


And the aggressive ignorance from the likes of Aaron Turpen doesn't help.

Nick Lyons

Collapse of ocean food chains may turn out to be the most catastrophic consequence of AGW. How many millions of humans depend on sea life for employment and/or food? I fear it's a grim world we are creating. Care for some jellyfish salad?


Like SciAm, Climate Progress, NY Times, etc., too many people are reading GCC. The quality of its posts and historical level of discussion means it has become a target.

The approach is obvious, if unable to debate the facts intelligently, then shout it down.

The Goracle


jcwinnie, You make VERY good points. The standard discussion of the Globalwarmists is to shout "the science is settled" then refuse to discuss the so-called science. "Science" that is based on data that the "scientists" refuse to release (peer reviewed?!? Not if it's not released.)

Yes, a discussion needs to take place with regard to climate, why data is not released, why scientists break the law by refusing to comply with FOIA requests, etc. There also needs to be a real discussion with regard to POLLUTION, not this silly CO2 topic. Most everyone is against pollution and are for energy independence (although many are against energy independence if it means using our own energy in the form of coal, oil, or natural gas). Why do the Globalewarmists refuse to discuss the "science?" The discussion is always focused on what to do about "science" that has very little basis in fact - it is based on models that DO NOT match today's conditions.



EP and JC,
Seems some think there is some mileage to be got as bandleader for the ignorant rowdy's.
I guess they get to play follow the leader as reward. The prerequisite display of ignorance is truly spectacular.

Will S

jcwinnis said;

"The approach is obvious, if unable to debate the facts intelligently, then shout it down."

Those shouting admit they have no real, defensible position. Goracle is a prime example...

The Goracle


Those shouting admit they have no real, defensible position.. Goracle is a prime example...

Nice shout, Will S!

LOL... Science!



As with anything involving climate is helps to look at the long term record to get some perspective.

According to the 2009 paper by Liu et al, they reconstructed the paleo-pH record of the past 7000 years in the South China Sea. The study shows a natural variation of pH between 8.3 and 7.90. The low arrived about 6000 years ago and the high about 1000 years ago. We are currently at a broad global average pH of 8.0-8.1 Clearly the low (less basic) of 6k years ago, was not caused by man-made CO2.

There is further evidence of pH variation coincident with the PDO. Does this mean we don't worry about dumping crap in the oceans? Or urban street runoff into oceans?? Hell no! Those are real pollution problems and addressing them should be a part of any industrialized nation's environmental protection plan.

Liu, Y., Liu, W., Peng, Z., Xiao, Y., Wei, G., Sun, W., He, J. Liu, G. and Chou, C.-L. 2009. Instability of seawater pH in the South China Sea during the mid-late Holocene: Evidence from boron isotopic composition of corals. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 73: 1264-1272



Are you paid or otherwise compensated for your online comments?

Do you post under multiple names?


I live in Seattle. The shellfish industry in W. Wa. is experiencing for the first time in it's long history the effects of ocean ph eating their shellfish seed stock before it is old enough to develop a heavy enough shell to protect them. Don't tell me this is some B.S. science.
The people with their heads in the sand or else where need to wake up. Also if this last decade is again the warmest on record, then how is it unexplained cooling?
Is the north polar ice regrowing? Has the melting of the major ice caps reversed themselves? Those giant icebergs floating by New Zealand change course? Did the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Observatory suddenly see a decrease in Co2? And once the N.Pole is gone, whats to stop the permafrost from melting out and releasing bil. of tons of methane?


I do have to agree with some of Goracles first post. The public is getting tired of opinion and projection. Words are not pictures and we hear it all the time. The nightly news is not fact anymore it is opinion. it is entertainment. So much so that the average citizen has either become numb to the effects or drifts off into a haze with the passing words and grasps only the most exotic or radical crap flung at them. What we need are facts and then images to back it up. We need to see more comparative images of the polar ice and the sea level rise. We need to see pacific islanders moving from their traditional homelands. We need to see Northern indigenous peoples pointing out the melting of permafrost that has never melted before in written or oral history. We need to see images of receding ice pack that once inhabited the same regions years before where those same indigenous peoples used to hunt or where shore birds used to forage for food. Enough words let's see the bare facts in real terms.



thank you for being honest about your emotional attachment to the issues. That, however does not replace good science.


Cats and Dogs living together!!!! This two days after the Russians point out that the British MET office was Cherry picking termperature readings like Michael Mhann (sp) cherry picks tree rings.

I think in 30 years the last believer in AGW will be pulled out of a cave on some remote "dry" pacific island, like those Japanese soldiers that spent 30 years in the Jungle still believing the war was going on.


The fact that the basic facts of the post are being argued with shows that the sceptics don't care about the science. High school chemistry tells us that CO2 is absorbed by water to form a weak acid, carbonic acid. More CO2 inthe atmosphere equals lower ph. Measurement and observation tell us that it's happening

Are you planning to go and live in the Maldives Esabre? I think not. I live in Australia and we are being hit hard by climate change, living in a fool's paradise doesn't help anyone

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