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Elementary Science Education

Acidification of oceans due to increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2

Welcome to BFSU: Forums Volume Three Learning Progression A. Nature of Matter Lesson A22. Concepts of Chemistry V: Acids and Bases Acidification of oceans due to increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2

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      Bernard Nebel

      We generally think of global warming/climate change as being the major consequence of our burning fossil fuels and increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere. (This is addressed in another lesson D-21). Here, we address a different, but even more devastating aspect increasing atmospheric CO2. 

      We have seen (buffers above) that an acid can be neutralized by something that is not a base, namely calcium carbonate (lime stone). The key point is that such reactions can go backwards as well. Acid can be produced by something that is not an acid. The case at point is our atmospheric gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).

      When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it reacts with water molecules to produce a weak acid.

      CO2  + H2O  <————>  H2CO3. <——> H+ +  HCO3 

      As indicated this reaction may go either direction. The direction it goes is dependent on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. More CO2 in the atmosphere results in more CO2 dissolving in water and consequently more acidity. With less CO2 there would be less acid. 

      The very serious problem is that our burning of fossil fuels (coal, gasoline, oil, and natural gas) has and continues to increase the atmospheric concentration of CO2. This increase in CO2 has driven/is driving the above reaction to the right and is resulting in a significant acidification of oceans. This acidification is having very serious ecological impacts on marine life, as depicted in the following videos.  (Both videos address the same thing; the second goes into somewhat greater depth. Pease post questions.)  










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