A New XPRIZE: Tracking the Acidification of the Oceans

Science & Space

The idea that human activity could fundamentally change the chemistry of the oceans can seem preposterous. The oceans have a volume of around 1.5 billion cu km, and people have only visited a fraction of that space. No less an environmentalist than Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, thought the oceans so vast that human beings could never really change them.

If only that were true. Human beings have overfished the oceans, and pollution has ruined some of the great coral reefs that belt the tropics. Even more astounding is the fact that—through the burning of billions and billions of tons of carbon—humans have actually altered the chemistry of the oceans. The water has absorbed about 23% of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions, and much of that gas ends up as excess carbonic acid in seawater. As a result, the oceans are about 30% more acidic than they were…

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