Royal Society launches investigation into rising acidity of oceans

16 August 2004

Concern about the world’s oceans becoming increasingly acidic, due to pollution from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, has prompted the Royal Society to launch a study today (16 August, 2004) into the potentially catastrophic consequences for marine life.

Oceans ’mop up’ carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and this, in turn, increases the acidity of the water. Rising levels of the gas from the unmanaged burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal may be exacerbating this. A study published last year by Livermore National Laboratory in the United States suggested that the projected increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may drive ocean pH values, the scale for measuring acidity, to change more rapidly than at any time over the last 25 million years.

Currently, the impact of this rising ocean acidity on marine life is largely unknown. However, there are fears that it could particularly affect corals and sea creatures with hard shells. This is because acidification seems to decrease the availability of calcium carbonate from the water - which these creatures use to produce their hard skeletons. Increased acidity may also directly affect the growth and reproduction rates of fish, as well as affecting the plankton populations which they rely on for food, and have potentially disastrous consequences for marine food webs.

Professor John Raven, chair of the working group that will conduct the study said: "Our oceans may be doubly besieged. The same pollution that we believe is heating the world’s oceans through global warming is also altering their chemical balance. This study will look at what impact increased acidity levels might have on marine life and re-emphasise the urgent need to respond to the spectre of climate change, an issue identified by the UK Government as a priority for its Presidency of G8 in 2005."

The Royal Society report will be published early next year.  Individuals and organisations that are interested in contributing evidence to this study should contact the Royal Society.

For further information contact:

Sue Windebank or Bob Ward
Press and Public Relations
The Royal Society, London
Tel: 020 7451 2514/2516