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Climate change and our oceans

Our planet is mostly blue. As Earth’s vast lungs, oceans absorb carbon dioxide emissions and generate at least half the oxygen we breathe. As the world’s growing population pumps ever-increasing rates of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, oceans absorb huge amounts of it.  


That’s good for us in a way because the ocean is our biggest carbon sink, helping to slow climate change. But it’s not sustainable because that carbon is destroying the marine ecosystem by making the ocean more acidic.


Today, oceans are 30 per cent more acidic than in pre-industrial times. Ocean acidification affects many species that live in water as well as the coastal populations that rely on the ocean for food and income. Fragile marine life — including plankton, fish, oysters, crabs and coral — need the right chemical balance to build and maintain their shells and skeletons.


Overcoming the acidic conditions requires more energy, which means marine life has less energy for reproduction and growth. This can threaten the stability of food chains, which in turn has a negative impact on fisheries and tourism.


Climate change has also intensifies the growth of huge harmful algal blooms in surface waters, releasing toxins, absorbing sunlight and taking up oxygen when they die off in a harmful cycle that is weakening our largest ecosystem.

Corals Under the Sea

So, what role can atoms play to protect and heal our oceans?

The unique atomic composition of the marine ecosystem gives us an insight into how climate change is affecting our oceans: a thousands-of-years-old coral skeleton can reveal the pH value of water when they were alive, which can be compared to the pH value of today. Atomic data can give us these readings so we can detect the slightest of changes, and that helps us predict the future.

Predicting the future with atoms

Right now, it doesn’t look too good. But you can’t fix what you don’t know about. So the data collected and the knowledge provided can help decision-makers, governments and the public decide how to change what we do before it’s too late to nurse our ocean back to full health.

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