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Acidity of the earth’s oceans is rising dramatically because of a surge in carbon dioxide that has taken greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere to record highs, the United Nations said Tuesday. The finding in the World Meteorological Organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin (PDF) is bad news for the critters that live in that water: Studies have shown that the more-acid water already is eating away the shells of tiny sea snails and king crabs and killing oyster larvae. That’s a problem for everything up the food chain: salmon and other fish, dolphins, whales, and humans.
The WMO said atmospheric carbon dioxide was 42 percent higher in 2013 than in the pre-industrial era, and methane and nitrous oxide also rose substantially. The world’s oceans absorb a fourth of carbon dioxide produced by people, the WMO said, and the current rate of “acidification appears unprecedented at least over the last 300 million years.” What’s more, the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide appears to be falling, the report said, with 70 percent still remaining of the capacity at the beginning of the industrial era. It said that by the end of this century, only 20 percent of the capacity might remain.
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