November 17, 2013 – Vol.18 No.36
ACID OCEANS: STRONGER STORMS?
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
Here's a question that should add to climate scientists worries.
Is it possible that more acidic oceans lead to stronger hurricanes and typhoons?
According a new report published by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), "Ocean Acidification Summary for Policymakers 2013", because of carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, the average pH of ocean surface waters has fallen by about 0.1 units, from 8.2 to 8.1, since the beginning of the industrial revolution. This corresponds to a 26 percent increase in acidity.
Things get much worse by the year 2100 if high CO2 emissions continue. By then the projected increase in ocean acidity is about 170 precent compared with preindustrial levels.
Here's the possible connection between acidy water and storms: As water temperature rises its surface tension decreases and its evaporation rate increases. (Tropical cyclones need lots of evaporated water to get their energy.) Warmer oceans are expected to create stronger storms. BUT, the more acidic water gets there is also a reduction in surface tension, thus water evaporates more easily adding energy to storms.
(Salt water has a higher surface tension than fresh water, if you're curious. This may factor in somehow. I don't know.)
The world's oceans are becoming more acidic than at any time in the past 300 million years and at an "unprecedented rate," according to the report.
Mostly scientists are worried about what lives in the oceans: They think that some 30 percent of ocean species are unlikely to survive the high acid conditions. The shells and skeletons of marine organisms will be damaged in sour waters. By 2020, researchers say, ten percent of the Arctic will be inhospitable to species that build their shells from calcium carbonate. By 2100 the entire Arctic will be a hostile environment.
People alive today will see some shellfish disappear from the world's oceans. But will they also experience stronger storms, more like Super Typhoon Haiyan? And will those super typhoons be driven by a combination of warmer AND acidic water? Scientists need to study this.
The Summary for Policymakers states with "very high confidence" that increasing acidification is caused by human activities and are adding 24 million metric tons of CO2 to oceans every day.
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