What is ocean acidification?

Carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels are causing changes to our atmosphere and our planet, including acidifying our oceans. Worldwide, oceans absorb about 28% of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities. Once absorbed by the ocean, this carbon dioxide undergoes a series of reactions that change seawater chemistry. As a result, the surface ocean has become about 30 percent more acidic over the past 250 years.

How does ocean acidification affect Washington state?

The Puget Sound and our Pacific Northwest marine waters are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because of our location combined with other global, natural and human-driven factors. These factors include:

  • The amount of global carbon dioxide in our atmosphere
  • Upwelling of nutrient-rich—and often corrosive—waters off our coast
  • High rates of plankton production and microbial respiration that ultimately reduce the oxygen content of local waters
  • Human activities on land, including runoff of nutrients and other pollutants from our watersheds and cities into Puget Sound and coastal waters
  • Industrial emissions of acidifying gases other than carbon dioxide, for example, sulfur dioxide

In isolation, any one of these factors may not tip the balance—but when added together they make our waters more susceptible to ocean acidification.

Learn more:
Six things we know about ocean acidification in Pacific Northwest coastal waters

2017 Addendum to Ocean Acidification: From Knowledge to Action

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