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Ocean acidity speeding up with dangerous consequences, say researchers

Ocean researchers at Columbia University said acidification of the ocean may be worse today than during the four major mass extinctions in history due to global warming.

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Ocean researchers at Columbia University said acidification of the ocean may be worse today than during the four major mass extinctions in history due to global warming. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Pollution from carbon emissions may be speeding up the acidity of the oceans faster than in the last 300 million years, researchers said Thursday.

According to AFP, a study by researchers at Columbia University in New York published in the journal Science, have found that the acidification of the ocean may be worse today than during the four major mass extinctions in history when asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions caused global temperatures to rise dramatically.

Bloomberg reported that the closest pace of change in pH levels occured during during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum about 56 million years ago, when, it is estimated half of all seabed species went extinct.

The repercussions of the current acidification are numerous say the team of international researchers involved in the project, which, according to UPI, is the first to survey the geologic record for evidence of ocean acidification over such a long period.

When seawater is acidified, coral and plankton at the bottom of the food chain cannot survive, with consequences that move up the food chain causing possible mass extinctions like the one that occured millions of years before.

"What we're doing today really stands out," Barbel Honisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory was quoted by UPI as saying. "We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out -- new species evolved to replace those that died off. But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about -- coral reefs, oysters, salmon."

The research suggests that the burning of fossil fuels has increased the level of atmospheric carbon to 392 parts per million from about 280 parts per million at the start of the industrial revolution. While increased carbon dioxide levels are seen as the main culprit in warming the planet, it also seeps into the oceans, forming "carbonic acid" resulting in more acidity.

According to the researchers, the pH level of the oceans is currently dropping by about 0.1 per century.

The press release of the new study said that the damage acidity is doing to the oceans currently will not be able to be reversed.

"It's not a problem that can be quickly reversed," said Christopher Langdon, a biological oceanographer at the University of Miami, in the press release. "Once a species goes extinct it's gone forever. We're playing a very dangerous game."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/green/global-warming/120301/oceans-acidification-global-warming