Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CO2 poisoning is killing the ocean

Imagine a poison so nasty that it dissolved your skeleton. Sounds like a horror movie, but it's real. Excess carbon dioxide is a vicious ocean killer that dissolves shells and bones, and it's happening today.

How bad is it? CO2 poisoning will kill, corrode, and dissolve most of the world's corals by 2100 if we don't fix our CO2 habit. Unchecked, CO2 poisoning will also kill vital plankton that are food for many of the ocean's fish and whales. And the damage has already begun. Yikes.

OK, are you paying attention now? Shall we do something about this ocean menace? Does "CO2 poisoning" sound like something we need to fix? More so than the bland term "ocean acidification?"

Or, should we stick with a nice 6 syllable word (a-cid-i-fi-ca-tion) to talk about a vicious ocean killer? Does that work, or does it just spell b-o-r-i-n-g to most people?

Is this the best way to talk about CO2 poisoning?
"Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals becoming increasingly rare on reef systems."
Or how about this:
Acidifying the ocean is particularly detrimental to organisms that secrete shell material made of CaCO3, such as coral reefs and a type of phytoplankton called coccolithophorids.

I'll make you a deal. If you're one of the 17 people in the world who really understands all the details of CO2 chemistry in the ocean (see figure, right), then you can say "acidification" in public. Otherwise, it's time to start using real words like CO2 poisoning to talk about this vicious ocean killer.

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