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Cranking up the volume
Date:9/29/2008

It is common knowledge that the world's oceans and atmosphere are warming as humans release more and more carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere. However, fewer people realize that the chemistry of the oceans is also changingseawater is becoming more acidic as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in the oceans. According to a paper to be published this week by marine chemists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, these changes in ocean temperature and chemistry will have an unexpected side effectsounds will travel farther underwater.

Conservative projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that the chemistry of seawater could change by 0.3 pH units by 2050 (see below for background information on pH and ocean acidification). In the October 1, 2008 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, Keith Hester and his coauthors calculate that this change in ocean acidity would allow sounds to travel up to 70 percent farther underwater. This will increase the amount of background noise in the oceans and could affect the behavior of marine mammals.

Ocean chemists have known for decades that the absorption of sound in seawater changes with the chemistry of the water itself. As sound moves through seawater, it causes groups of atoms to vibrate, absorbing sounds at specific frequencies. This involves a variety of chemical interactions that are not completely understood. However the overall effect is strongly controlled by the acidity of the seawater. The bottom line is the more acidic the seawater, the less low- and mid-frequency sound it absorbs.

Thus, as the oceans become more acidic, sounds will travel farther underwater. According to Hester's calculations, such a change in chemistry will have the greatest effect on sounds below about 3,000 cycles per second (two and one half octaves above "middle C" on a piano).

This range of sounds includes most of the "low frequency" soun
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Contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett
kfb@mbari.org
831-775-1835
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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