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Monday, August 26, 2013

Ocean Acidification

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

With increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, the extent of effects on the ocean and marine resources is an increasing concern. One aspect of this issue is the ongoing process (known as ocean acidification) whereby seawater becomes less alkaline as more CO2 dissolves in it, causing hydrogen ion concentration in seawater to increase. Scientists are concerned that increasing hydrogen ion concentration could reduce growth or even cause death of shell-forming animals (e.g., corals, mollusks, and certain planktonic organisms) as well as disrupt marine food webs and the reproductive physiology of certain species. While not yet fully understood, the ecological and economic consequences of ocean acidification could be substantial.

Scientists are concerned that increasing hydrogen ion concentration in seawater could alter biogeochemical cycles, disrupt physiological processes of marine organisms, and damage marine ecosystems. This report does not discuss the effects of increasing thermal stress to marine organisms and ecosystems (e.g., coral bleaching) related to climate change. However, marine ecosystems are likely to be affected by the synergistic effects of factors involved in both thermal and chemical processes.

Congress is beginning to focus attention on better understanding ocean acidification and determining how this concern might be addressed. In the 111
th Congress, the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009 (Title XII, Subtitle D, of P.L. 111-11) directed the Secretary of Commerce to establish an ocean acidification program within NOAA, established an interagency committee to develop an ocean acidification research and monitoring plan, and authorized appropriations through FY2012 for NOAA and the National Science Foundation. The only bill related to ocean acidification that has been introduced during the 113th Congress is the Coral Reef Conservation Act Amendments of 2013 (S. 839). S. 839 would include ocean acidification in the criteria used to evaluate project proposals for studying threats to coral reefs and developing responses to coral reef losses. On July 30, 2013, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation ordered S. 839 to be reported.

Date of Report: August 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R40143
Price: $29.95

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