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Seven Seas Sop Up CO 2

Balancing the pH budget on the backs of shellfish and corals

3 min read

In mid-July, Science magazine published two landmark papers reporting on a 15-year investigation into the role of carbon dioxide in the Earth's oceans. The major findings are, first, that nearly half of the carbon dioxide that humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the last 200 years has been absorbed by the oceans, and, second, that the rising CO 2 concentrations could start to have serious adverse effects on some marine life.

The background to the reports is essentially this: since 1957-1958, when as an activity of the International Geophysical Year instruments were placed on Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano, precise measurements have confirmed that CO 2 is rising sharply and steadily in the atmosphere. But an anomaly also appeared. Only about half the CO 2 estimated to be coming from fossil fuel combustion has been showing up in the atmosphere. Oceanographers and atmospheric scientists were pretty sure that most of the missing CO 2 must have been taken up by the oceans, but it is only with the completion of the latest study that this belief is confirmed by solid empirical evidence.

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Greg Mably


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