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What Is Ocean Acidification?

NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Carbon Group

This static image from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Carbon Program offers a visually compelling and scientifically sound image of the sea water carbonate chemistry process that leads to ocean acidification and impedes calcification.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

The abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is controlled by biogeochemical cycles that continually move these components between their ocean, land, life, and atmosphere reservoirs. The abundance of carbon in the atmosphere is reduced through seafloor accumulation of marine sediments and accumulation of plant biomass and is increased through deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels as well as through other processes.
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Changes in climate conditions can affect the health and function of ecosystems and the survival of entire species. The distribution patterns of fossils show evidence of gradual as well as abrupt extinctions related to climate change in the past.
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The chemistry of ocean water is changed by absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is causing ocean water to become more acidic, threatening the survival of shell-building marine species and the entire food web of which they are a part.
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Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
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Changes in environmental conditions can affect the survival of individual organisms and entire species.
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Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Most relevant in a life science or chemistry class focusing on an often overlooked and enormously important impact of burning fossil fuels.
  • Might best be used as context for a series of basic chemistry experiments understanding buffering, acidity, dissolution, and carbonate reactions.

About the Science

  • In the text surrounding the image there is a good overview of the chemistry and consequences of ocean acidification.
  • Image shows a simplified version of a portion of the sea water chemistry that leads to ocean acidification.
  • Passed initial science review.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Accurate, condensed information about ocean acidification and its impacts - both present (observed) and future (predicted).

About the Pedagogy

  • This site has potentially helpful background on the complex chemical interactions and impacts of CO2 from the atmosphere on the marine ecosystem.
  • Additionally, this site provides links to papers, data, and graphs, which will aid further investigation.
  • Other steps of the chemical process are shown in other graphics that are available on this website.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Good illustration with background information on ocean acidification.
  • Background information the the science and how related research is conducted is included.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

This is the NOAA overview page on ocean acidification: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification

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