Climate change: Oceans will die even if we remove carbon dioxide from atmosphere, say scientists

Oceans will still become acidic due to CO2 dissolving to form carbonic acid, the report found

Steve Connor
Monday 03 August 2015 22:10
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Watery grave: scientists are warning that climate change is changing the chemical make-up of oceans, meaning that the fish in La Boqueria market could become a thing of the past
Watery grave: scientists are warning that climate change is changing the chemical make-up of oceans, meaning that the fish in La Boqueria market could become a thing of the past

Attempts to save the world from global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while continuing to burn fossil fuels are unlikely to prevent the oceans from dying as a result of a build-up of acidity, scientists have found.

Some commentators have suggested a “plan B” if climate talks fail to curb fossil fuel use, with carbon-dioxide removal being a prime contender using technology that still has to be developed – Sir Richard Branson has promised a $25m prize to the first person to demonstrate that it works.

However, a study by scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany has discovered that even if an efficient method is found to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it will not stop the oceans for becoming acidic due to CO2 dissolving to form carbonic acid.

“Geoengineering measures are currently being debated as a kind of last resort to avoid dangerous climate change – either in the case that policymakers find no agreement to cut CO2 emissions, or to delay the transformation of our energy systems,” said Sabine Mathesius, the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“However, looking at the oceans we see that this approach carries great risks…even if the CO2 in the atmosphere would later on be reduced to the pre-industrial concentration, the acidity in the oceans could still be more than four times higher than the preindustrial level. It would take many centuries to get back into balance with the atmosphere,” Dr Mathesius said.

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