From TheTyee.ca – June 14, 2011
by Jennifer Langston
[Editor’s note: The Tyee is pleased to bring you
the second in an occasional series of articles, ‘Northwest Ocean
Acidification: The Other Cost of Carbon Pollution’, produced by the Sightline Institute.]
Five years ago, many scientists probably
thought they’d never see large pools of corrosive water near the ocean’s
surface in their lifetimes.
Basic chemistry told them that as the oceans absorbed more carbon dioxide pollution
from cars and smokestacks and industrial processes, seawater would
become more acidic. Eventually, the oceans could become corrosive enough
to kill vulnerable forms of sea life like corals and shellfish and
But scientists believed the effects of this chemical process — called ocean acidification — would be confined to deep offshore ocean waters for some time. Models projected
it would take decades before corrosive waters reached the shallow
continental shelf off the Pacific Coast, where an abundance of sea life
Until a group of oceanographers started hunting for it.
“What we found, of course, was that it was everywhere we looked,” said Richard Feely, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, who was one of the first to recognize the trouble ahead.
The researchers found surprisingly acidic water
— corrosive enough to begin dissolving the shells and skeletal
structures of some marine creatures — at relatively shallow depths all
along the west coast, from British Columbia to the tip of Baja
California. Researchers hadn’t expected
to see that extent of ocean acidification until the middle to the end
of this century. But in a seasonal process called “upwelling,”
summertime winds pushed surface waters offshore and pulled deeper, more
acidic water towards the continental shelf, shorelines, and beaches.
Or as one Oregon State University marine ecologist put it: “The future of ocean acidification is already here off the Oregon Coast.”