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June 10, 2012

Oceans taking brunt of excess carbon dioxide

This is a true story.

An Illinois man claimed that he found a dead, intact mouse inside a can of Mountain Dew and became sick. He filed a lawsuit. In defending itself, PepsiCo Inc. engaged a veterinarian who was knowledgeable of the effects of carbonated soda drinks on mice. The affidavit, filed by L. McGill DVM, makes for interesting reading. It states that a mouse will have no calcium in its bones after immersion within a week, and that after one month, “all of the mouse’s structures would not be recognizable.”

The can had a manufacturing date that was 74 days prior to the claimed event. Finding an intact mouse would not be possible. So why would this happen, and what does this have to do with climate science?

When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid, and the more gas that dissolves the more carbonic acid formed and the more acidic the liquid becomes. The following equation illustrates this. The acid is shown as H+ and/or 2H+ and is responsible for dissolving all of the calcium in the mouse’s bones.

Our oceans are absorbing tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that the oceans absorb from

1⁄3 to 1⁄2 of all the CO2 that our civilization emits. In one way this is a good thing, since it removes the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, thereby reducing its warming effect.

However, our oceans are becoming more acidic just like the can of soda, and that is not a good thing.

The diagram labeled “A” provides a visual simplification of part of this complex process. Carbon dioxide is released from our homes, cars, factories and other sources, and a significant amount dissolves in the Earth’s oceans. This then undergoes a series of chemical reactions, which is partially shown here.

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