Speed of Ocean Acidification Concerns Scientists

By Dr. Daniela Schmidt

Speaking at the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World late last month in Monterey, California, Dr Daniela Schmidt, a geologist from the University of Bristol, warned that current rates of ocean acidification are unparalleled in Earth history.

Dr. Schmidt, of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, said, “Ocean acidification has happened before sometimes with large consequences for marine ecosystems.  But within the last 300 million years, never has the rate of ocean acidification been comparable to the ongoing acidification.”

She added that the most comparable event, most likely 10 times slower than the current acidification, was 55 million years ago.
“At that time, species responded to the warming, acidification, change in nutrient input and loss of oxygen – the  same processes that we now see in our oceans.  The geological record shows changes in species distribution, changes in species composition, changes in calcification and growth and in a few cases extinction,” she said.

“Our current acidification rates are unparalleled in Earth history and lead most ecosystems into unknown territory.”

That rate of change was echoed by Dr. Claudine Hauri, an oceanographer from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, “The waters up and down the coast from our conference site here in Monterey Bay are particularly prone to the effects of ocean acidification.  The chemistry of these waters is changing at such a rapid pace that organisms now experience conditions that are different from what they have experienced in the past. And within about 20 or 30 years, the chemistry again will be different from that of even today.”

Dr. Schmidt and Dr. Hauri were two of four scientists participating in the first press briefing during the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World.  Also participating were Dr. Richard Feely of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who gave an overview of ocean acidification and Dr James Orr of the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et l’Environnement (LSCE) in France, who shared projections.

A paper by Dr. Schmidt and colleagues on the geological record of ocean acidification was published in Science in March 2012.


Ocean acidification may have severe consequences for marine ecosystems; however, assessing its future impact is difficult because laboratory experiments and field observations are limited by their reduced ecologic complexity and sample period, respectively. In contrast, the geological record contains long-term evidence for a variety of global environmental perturbations, including ocean acidification plus their associated biotic responses. We review events exhibiting evidence for elevated atmospheric CO2, global warming, and ocean acidification over the past ~300 million years of Earth’s history, some with contemporaneous extinction or evolutionary turnover among marine calcifiers. Although similarities exist, no past event perfectly parallels future projections in terms of disrupting the balance of ocean carbonate chemistry—a consequence of the unprecedented rapidity of CO2 release currently taking place.

Sustainable Land Development Initiative

For the latest SLDI tweets, click here.

The 21st century will overturn many of our previously-held assumptions about civilization. The challenges and opportunities land development stakeholders now face – to fulfill the needs of society and achieve a favorable return on investment without harming the environment – have vast implications on the sustainability of our communities around the world.

SLDI - Sustainable Land Development Initiative is a stakeholder social media association now positioned to help transform the industry that creates the very infrastructure of our civilization. SLDI is dedicated to delivering sustainable land development technology and knowledge resources to promote and enable fully integrated sustainable land development worldwide.

How do we develop a sustainable civilization?
By delivering the "holy grail of sustainable decision making" - a universal geometrical algorithm that balances the needs of people, planet and profit - The SLDI Code™
The World’s First Sustainable Development Decision Model is symbolized as a geometrical algorithm that balances and integrates the triple-bottom line needs of people, planet and profit into a holistic, fractal model that becomes increasingly detailed, guiding effective decisions throughout the community planning, financing, design, regulating, construction and maintenance processes while always enabling project context to drive specific decisions.

2400 Green Street, Suite 201
Dubuque, IA 52001
Contact: twernke@sldi.org

SLDI Co-founders:
Terry Mock
Tony Wernke

Read The Fractal Frontier - Sustainable Development Trilogy.
Read Developing a Sustainable Endgame for the Global Economy
See history and evolution of SLDI @ SLDI Foundational Articles

8 responses

  1. The Case for Fossil-Fuel Divestment
    On the road with the new generation of college activists fighting for the environment
    By Bill McKibben
    February 22, 2013

    ….Universities need to lead because they are where we first found out about climate change. It was in physics labs and on university supercomputers that the realization we were in trouble first dawned a generation ago. By this point the proverbial man in the street can see their predictions coming sadly true: It wasn’t just Sandy, though
    there’s no doubt that the image of the cold Atlantic pouring into the New York subways had imprinted the new fragility of western civilization on many minds. (If that radical rag Business Week used the headline “It’s Global Warming, Stupid,” then you knew the message was getting through.) But everywhere we went across the nation on our tour,
    people had their own stories. In the Pacific Northwest, where we began, ocean acidification is so advanced that oyster farmers are in despair….

    Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-case-for-fossil-fuel-divestment-20130222#ixzz2M6aovA00

  2. October 3, 2013 by Common Dreams
    Human Assault Pushes Ocean to Limit Unseen in 300 Million Years

    Driven by accumulations of carbon, the scientists found, the rate of acidification in the oceans is the highest its been in over 300 million years. Additionally, de-oxygenation–caused by both warming and industrial runoff–is stripping the ocean of its ability to support the plants and animals that live in it.

    The combined stressors, according to the report, are “unprecedented in the Earth’s known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun.”

  3. Science Daily
    Modern ocean acidification is outpacing ancient upheaval: Rate may be ten times faster
    June 2, 2014 – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140602170341.htm

    The Earth Institute at Columbia University – Scientists estimate that surface ocean acidity increased by about 100 percent during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in a few thousand years or more, and stayed that way for the next 70,000 years. Scientists have long suspected that ocean acidification caused the crisis — similar to today, as humanmade CO2 combines with seawater to change its chemistry. Now, for the first time, scientists have quantified the extent of surface acidification from those ancient days, and the news is not good: the oceans are on track to acidify at least as much as they did then, only at a much faster rate.

  4. New Scientist
    The world is warming faster than we thought
    October 2014 by Michael Selzak

    It’s worse than we thought. Scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate.

    Comparisons of direct measurements with satellite data and climate models suggest that the oceans of the southern hemisphere have been sucking up more than twice as much of the heat trapped by our excess greenhouse gases than previously calculated. This means we may have underestimated the extent to which our world has been warming… http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26317-the-world-is-warming-faster-than-we-thought.html#.VDK_NBYvf0M

    Coral Reefs Show Remarkable Ability to Recover from Near Death
    Scientists have identified key factors that enable corals to recover from bleaching events brought on by global warming
    January 15, 2015 | By David Biello

    As the planet heats up so do the world’s waters, and that means more coral bleaching. But now a new study reveals that some corals can bounce back from such near death experiences… One factor that could complicate this resilience analysis is seawater acidity, or pH. The oceans also absorb the atmospheric carbon dioxide that accumulates from rampant fossil-fuel burning, which renders the water more acidic… http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coral-reefs-show-remarkable-ability-to-recover-from-near-death/?WT.mc_id=SA_DD_20150116

Comments are closed.