Review

The Geological Record of Ocean Acidification

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Science  02 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6072, pp. 1058-1063
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208277

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Acid History

As human activity continues to pump nearly 50-fold more CO2 into the atmosphere than any existing natural sources, the oceans absorb it. Over time, this vast quantity of excess oceanic CO2 is expected to decrease oceanic pH and have marked effects on calcifying marine species. Looking to the past for records of the consequences, other instances of ocean acidification in geologic history caused by large natural events, such as volcanism, may help predict the oceans' response to contemporary CO2 levels. Hönisch et al. (p. 1058) review the geological events that potentially altered oceanic pH, from the last deglaciation to the largest mass extinction in Earth's history. The current rate of anthropogenic CO2 input into the oceans is much faster than at any other instance in the past, but yet it is unclear whether or not future ocean pH will be significantly affected.