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Don't Panic: Earth's Nine Threats to Humanity

By Eric Roston - 2011-12-13T01:58:47Z

Photograph by David Doubilet

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Ocean Acidification

Global warming has a partner in crime that earns fewer headlines and quieter movie treatments: ocean acidification.

Oceans absorb about a quarter of the carbon dioxide released by humans through factories, cars and forest clearing. CO2 dissolves in seawater as carbonic acid. Organisms ingest the carbon into the food chain, or it becomes part of the ocean's vast inorganic carbon conveyor.

Excessive CO2 absorption is changing the basic marine chemistry in which species evolved. Alkalinity has declined 30 percent since the industrial age began. The change is a particular threat to sensitive corals, like those found in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Single-celled life may be vulnerable, too, scientists wrote in the boundaries study, "presumably with ripple effects up the food chain."

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