Dissolving Depths

Carbon’s ghost falls
as tears
into the salty swell,

dark residues
of industry,

Acid eats
at skeletons
submerged –
dissolving homes,
and webs,
and lives.

Once firm shells
now frail as whispers,

lament in layers
the caustic waves.

We stain the sea
with inky lies –

limestone reefs
in bitter tides.

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that ocean acidification in the Mediterranean is already affecting the calcification of marine plankton.

The increasing levels of carbon dioxide emissions from human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, are not only warming our planet but are also causing a significant change in our oceans, known as ocean acidification. This process begins when the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dissolves into seawater, forming carbonic acid. This acid then lowers the ocean’s pH, making the water more acidic. This shift in pH can have harmful effects on marine life, particularly on species that rely on calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons. The long-term consequences of ocean acidification, especially over decades to centuries, are complex and not fully understood, making it a critical area of environmental research.

To better understand these impacts, the researchers studied three sediment cores from the Mediterranean Sea, which contain records spanning several centuries. They specifically looked at the weight, chemical composition, and other aspects of the shells of planktic foraminifera. The findings were concerning – as the levels of human-made carbon dioxide increased, these creatures’ shells became lighter, indicating weaker calcification. This is likely due to the increasing acidity of the ocean and the presence of carbon from fossil fuels. The study suggests that if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, these tiny but vital sea creatures in the Mediterranean Sea will face increasing difficulties in building their shells, which could have broader implications for the marine ecosystem.

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