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USF Study Shows First Direct Evidence of Ocean Acidification

November 2, 2010


The scientists, whose results are published in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Geophysical Research Letters, analyzed Pacific seawater between Oahu, Hawaii, and Kodiak, Alaska by comparing pH readings from 1991 and from 2006. This study provides the first direct measurements of basin-wide pH changes in the ocean’s depths and at its surface and has produced the first direct evidence of acidification across an entire ocean basin, the investigators said.

Principal investigator Robert Byrne, a USF seawater physical chemistry professor, said the study leaves no doubt that growing CO2 levels in the atmosphere are exerting major impacts on the world’s oceans.

“If this happens in a piece of ocean as big as a whole ocean basin, then this is a global phenomenon,” Byrne said.

Adding carbon dioxide to seawater makes it more acidic, and each year the world’s oceans absorb about one-third of the atmospheric CO2 produced by human activities.

Using pH-sensitive dyes that turn from purple to yellow in more acidic waters, the scientists were able to track changes produced by 15 years of CO2 uptake near the ocean’s surface, Byrne said. In deeper waters, down to about half a mile, both anthropogenic and naturally occurring changes in CO2 and pH were seen. In the very deepest waters, no significant pH changes were seen.


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