Ocean Acidification

“Ocean Acidification is just the evil twin of global warming…” As if global warming isn’t evil enough… Disappointed-Meme-Face-08

Being from a country where glass bottom boats, snorkeling and coral reef exploration are parts of tourism, Ocean Acidification is one of the global warming effects we need to discuss. Before we dive into that, let’s first understand pH, acids, bases & indicators, and the importance of pH balance.

What is pH?

pH is the measure of the hydrogen ion concentration of a compound. It is a logarithmic scale which ranges from 0-14 where 7 is neutral, >7 is basic (alkaline) and <7 is acidic.

pH= -log[H+]

pH scale (1)
pH Scale

Acids & Bases

From corrosive and sour to soapy and bitter, acids and bases make up the world as we know it. They are many different types of acids but for the simplicity’s sake, it can be defined as a chemical substance that neutralises bases, dissolves some metals, and turns litmus red or a molecule or entity that can donate a proton or accept an electron pair in reactions.

For a more in depth explanation of the pH Scale, click here!

Bases (a.k.a Alkalis) can be defined as a chemical compound that neutralises or effervesces (bubbles) with acids & turns litmus blue. Also, by being the opposite of acids, it is subsequently a compound that accepts protons or donates electron pairs in reactions.


These are compounds which change colour and structure when exposed to certain environments. Litmus, mentioned above, is an example of an indicator; it is the first indicator you will ever learn about in science. There are many other indicators which are used in chemical tests such as methyl red, phenolphthalein (common), methyl orange and many more.

pH Importance

For every biological system, pH plays a very important role in keeping the balance. The slightest change in pH can have adverse effects. For this post, I will use aquatic environments as an example. The pH of most aquatic environments ranges between 6-8 and in these conditions organisms, both at the top and the bottom of the food chain, thrive. pH can determine how well some organisms carry out their regular day-to-day processes with said water and unsustainable changes result in decreased numbers and in extreme cases, death. For other organisms, they grow to levels which may continue to inhibit the ones already struggling. This is why keeping the balance is paramount.

What’s there to know about the Ocean?

Ocean pH, seawater composition and the general equilibrium of the ideal ocean would help to show how different things can become or are becoming via Ocean Acidification. As Caribbean natives, we tend to just go to the beach and never think about what we’re stepping into. I think it’s high time we changed that.

Ocean pH

Unaffected by anthropogenic (man-made) emissions, the pH of sea water was a basic 8.2. After the rise in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, it has decreased to 8.1 thus, increasing in acidity. A 0.1 change in pH may seem so minuscule but the pH scale and the Richter Scale are alike in that a change of 1.o is actually 10 times that of the original value. So, this change represents a considerable decrease in the comfort of marine life.

“What is seawater even made of?”, you ask?

Seawater Composition

Ions found in seawater originate either from inside the earth (seismic/volcanic activity), the atmosphere (gases floating around in the atmosphere) or from the many organisms (coral reef, excrement or decomposing) which call the ocean their home. It is because of these above salts that the ocean tastes ‘salty’.

“How does the ocean maintain a basic pH?”

Ideal Ocean Equilibrium

You were probably thinking that a body of water should be neutral but by now I’m sure that has changed and wondering how it is basic and how does it stay basic. The answer, a Carbonate Buffer (a solution that resists pH changes when volumes of acid or alkali are added to it). A buffer usually consists of a weak acid and its salt; the carbonate buffer consists of carbonic acid (H2CO3) – formed when carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater – and the bicarbonate ion. Since carbonic acid is unstable, it breaks down into the bicarbonate and carbonate ions which are now responsible for the buffering/pH regulation of the ocean. The percentage presence of the bicarbonate ion (HCO3– ) and carbonate ion ( CO32-)make up part of the “other” percentage. Even though their percentages are scanty, they play the most important role in the ocean. All aquatic life is sensitive to the pH of the ocean therefore the buffer must be supreme.


The entire process of the Carbonate Buffer. In more basic conditions, the Carbonate Ion is formed. Ideally, equilibrium should be between the bicarbonate & carbonate ions.

“So! What is Ocean Acidification?” 

Ocean Acidification (OA)

Now that you have enough knowledge on the Carbonate Buffer, we can now take a look at the acidification process. Buffers are usually resistant to additions of acids and bases but given enough of one, the equilibrium will definitely shift. Since the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased over the years due to industrialisation, more and more carbon dioxide has been dissolving into the ocean. Therefore, the abundance of carbonic acid in the ocean is increasing, causing the buffer to become unbalanced thus, lowering the pH.

Before, the absorption of carbon dioxide by the world’s oceans was seen as natural mitigation to our climate change issue. But now it is proving to be yet another head of the hydra.


Calcium Carbonate Breakdown

Remember that carbonate ion which is formed in more basic conditions? Well when it reacts with the calcium ions in the ocean it forms a salt called calcium carbonate. This compound is one of the building blocks used by organisms to build shells and coral reefs amongst other things. When it reacts with the carbonic acid, it dissociates causing a weakening of the shells of snails, clams and any other like organisms, as well as the destruction of coral reef. The coral reef cannot use the calcium carbonate to keep their skeletons strong, therefore they dissolve. In Barbados, damage to our coral reefs will impact on our eco-tourism package. Imagine the larger world renowned reefs. How will they survive?

Ecosystem Imbalance

With calcium carbonate out of the picture, there is the problem of organism survival. Some juveniles of aquatic organisms have hard shells to protect them making them extremely vulnerable to OA. When the mortality rate of juveniles increase, the rate of survival decreases thus, an overall decrease in populations. This causes a domino effect in the food web. Where there is a shortage of food, a shortage of feeders arises.

Socio-Economic Impact

As I mentioned before, coral reefs are a part of many tropical destinations’ eco-tourism. With them being destroyed by OA, economic problems come to the light. Not only are the coral reefs gone, but the fish that frequented them are gone too. The big fishing companies that catch the mussels and shellfish for restaurants and supermarkets can go out of business if OA goes on long enough. Jobs, livelihoods and maybe even communities could be lost taking a toll on the economy causing it to tumble, yet again.

My Two Cents

“In the last 150 years or so, the pH of the oceans has dropped substantially, from 8.2 to 8.1–equivalent to a 25 percent increase in acidity. By the end of the century, ocean pH is projected to fall another 0.3 pH units, to 7.8.” (ScienceDaily, June 2014 )

We have discussed what pH, acids & bases and indicators are, everything you need to know about the ocean (for the purpose of this blog), and what is OA as well as its consequences. You have read for yourself, the situation is a serious one. I cannot stress enough how dangerous climate change (& its family) is to the planet and how much we have taken for granted. A step in the right direction would be to become more aware of what’s going on around you. There is no such thing as too much information when it comes to something as serious as this. Once you know, you can always do better.

– the Awkward Chemist

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.” –Rachel Carson


Sites Used for this Post:


Teach Ocean Science

National Science Foundation





I choose to live!

“You never know what’s hiding behind a beautiful smile.” – Anonymous

Most of the people who’ve been around me can tell you I love a laugh and I love to make people happy. I care about people a lot even when its to my own detriment. I know for most of you reading this right now, this is you. You spend countless hours being there for people without taking care of yourself and when you least expect it, you lose it ( I don’t necessarily mean a mental breakdown). Before you go jumping to conclusions, this isn’t an article about fake friends and disloyalty or a bad break-up. This article is about inspiring someone who may have “lost it” and needed confirmation that it will get better because I am living proof.

I’ve always been the girl who smiled before she cried, who laughed before she bashed or who walked away before she blew up. Whatever I went through, unless it was unbearable, no one knew and I liked it like that because I dealt with it and moved on; I even forgot that some of these trials existed. I made it through Combermere quite alright even though something major happened when I was fifth form. I may have lost some weight but I  quickly got back on my feet like nothing ever happened. Even my grades reflected a stable student. While I was in cadets, nothing ever fazed me because I loved cadetting since it was one of my happy places.

Before university, I was living a happy-go-lucky type life and I was fine with that. Everything was unicorns and rainbows and every one was trustworthy and had my back. Obviously, I was wrong and it was during my time at University that I came to this realisation. First year, almost my entire grad class stuck together. We all hung out under the tree by Roy Marshall and we painted Cave Hill blue and yellow during Combermere Week. We had classes together, we went to interschool sports together, we just had a good time. We weren’t really bothered about life, per se.

(At this point, you’re probably saying I had a cake walk through my first year but nah. I failed a course and I had hell doing lab write-ups and other projects. But, I made it through).

Then Summer ’12 happened…

I met someone who I instantly fell in love with. His physique was nice, his smirk was like a magnet and he seemed like a nice guy. Majority of the people in my life told me to leave him alone and of course I didn’t. Long story short: I had mountains of drama and I was left with a broken heart and a magnificent case of acid reflux. This “relationship” spanned second year and the first semester of third year. My grades declined, my relationships with friends got sketchy, I started doing things I never thought I would have done. Then I finally walked away and never looked back. But by this time it was too late and along with my acid reflux came depression & anxiety. I had never felt like this ever in my life and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Going to school on mornings was a struggle because I would cry all the way there. I couldn’t be around people because the anxiety would kick in and I would instantly start to feel sick. I would skip classes in small rooms because I hated being cooped up. I stopped smiling and I lost all of the weight I gained during first year.

Being home at night was worse because I hardly slept and I would just sit up and cry fearing the next day because I felt no better and I had to act like nothing was wrong. Like, my life was a mess. At the beginning of the second semester [third year] my grades were horrible and I wanted to give up so badly. This was my penultimate semester and I can remember calling my friend, Daniel crying to him telling him I can’t go on. I can’t do it anymore, I give up. He tried his best to console me. I messaged my mum and told her I wanted to take a break but she quickly told me I can do it and I am not a quitter. I honestly thought I couldn’t make it. Richell-Ann and Shakelia sat me down and just told me to let it out, release all of my emotions and don’t hold back. Stefan was my listening ear and he too knew what I went through because he went through it. Many other friends inquired and we spoke with the usual encouraging ending.

All in all, I completed that semester with the best grades I had ever gotten at university. I was bewildered, I couldn’t believe it. During exam time, I said a prayer. It was the first time I had prayed since secondary school and it worked. It wasn’t an immediate improvement because I still fought with my demons throughout the summer but eventually life got better. I prayed more often, I started going out more, I believed in myself more and I graduated University. I did it. I made it through University. I endured. There is no better feeling than the one you get when you make it through a hardship you thought you would never survive. You feel like you can take on the world and nothing scares you as much as it used to.

All of this could have been avoided if I had just thought about me, for once. I gave all of me to the wrong cause and it showed. I lost myself, I lost my personality and I lost the will to carry on. I was never alone, even though it felt that way, because my family and friends had my back. God sent them for me a long time ago & it was through my rough patch I found out why they were there. So many people, unnamed, came to my rescue and I have them to thank. They gave me words of encouragement and they showed me that even though we weren’t as close as we used to be, they still cared.

DO NOT GIVE UP. It may seem like you are having the worse time ever and there is no light at the end of the tunnel but, there is and you’re going to get there. Even if you think you have no one to talk to or that will understand what you’re going through, you’re going to make it.

I am still dealing with my problems. Every now and again my anxiety raises its head and I am able to push it down. I don’t let it get the best of me and I try to push myself past my fears so I can enjoy life. I am not fearless, though and I still prefer being home. However, I refuse to let life pass me by.

I choose to live.  tumblr_niibom9J2m1qjcc3qo1_250

“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” -William Wallace

– the Awkward Chemist

P.S. – talking to someone helps a lot. Especially someone who is neutral and has no affiliation to you or what may be troubling you. They see things clearer and they provide you with unbiased advice that is sure to help you. For me, that person was Dr. Badenock who was my Organic Chem lecturer. She showed me the bigger picture and that motivated me enough to get my life back on track.