The Acidic Ocean: How Ocean Acidification Is Damaging Our Global Ecosystem

Why should we care about ocean acidification?

Natalie Freeman, a PhD candidate in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department, studies the effects of ocean acidification on microscopic shell-making organisms known as coccolithophores—the same organisms that form England’s famed White Cliffs of Dover. She often has to explain why we should care we about the acidification of our oceans.

“If I’m on an airplane and I say what I do, I usually talk about how the ocean takes up a lot of carbon … [which] affects the organisms living in the ocean. And they’re important because they feed all of the fish we eat and they also give you every second breath.”

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Sour Skittles and Ocean Acidification

Sour Skittles are addictive.

In an attempt to enjoy all of the tongue-tingling flavor I could, I once held each individual Skittle on my tongue until all of its sugary sour coating had dissolved. This was a great idea at first. After a while though, my tongue started to burn. I powered through, intent on maximizing my Sour Skittles experience. But by the time I finished the pack, my tongue was completely raw. Did I taste the rainbow? No. Actually, I couldn’t taste anything for the next two days.

Luckily for me, the cells on your tongue regrow quickly so no harm, no foul. But what happened? Citric acid—the same stuff that gives lemons their mouth-puckering sour flavor—makes up that delicious coating on the outside of Sour Skittles. And that acid began to eat away at my tongue. While I was able to handle a little bit of the citric acid, I overexposed myself. Unfortunately, my Sour Skittles experience has parallels with an overlooked aspect of climate change—ocean acidification.

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