'Inhospitable Oceans' Acidifying at Rate Unseen in 250 Million Years (or Ever)

In both a new study published Monday and in a newspaper interview over the weekend, German marine biologist Hans Poertner warns the world that the crisis of ocean acidification—an intricately woven aspect of global warming and climate change—is now happening at a rate unparalleled in the life of the oceans for at least 250 million years and perhaps the fastest rate ever in the planet’s entire existence.

“The current rate of change is likely to be more than 10 times faster than it has been in any of the evolutionary crises in the earth’s history,” said Poertner in an interview with environmental journalist Fiona Harvey.

Ocean acidification—often called climate change’s “evil twin” by scientists and experts—happens as the pH level of seawater dwindles as it absorbs increasing amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and though such fluctuations are a normally occurring phenomenon, when the balance tips too far, the acidification can imperil numerous types of marine life and is especially threatening to coral, shell fish, and other essential members of the ocean’s ecosystems.

Poertner—whose study, Inhospitable Oceans, was published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change—says that if humanity’s industrial carbon emissions continue with a “business as usual” attitude, the problem of the oceans will be catastrophic.

To make comparisons, the study looked back at the ancient fossil record of the ocean to learn about what we can expect if the process continues unchecked. “The [effects observed] among invertebrates resembles those seen during the Permian Triassic extinctions 250m years ago, when carbon dioxide was also involved,” Poertner said. “The carbon dioxide range at which we see this sensitivity [to acidification] kicking in are the ones expected for the later part of this century and beyond.”

As Harvey explains:

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And as Time points out in its review of the study:

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