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I hear two seemingly contradictory statements:

  1. $\rm CO_2$ emissions will cause the oceans to absorb more $\rm CO_2$ and therefore acidify.

  2. $\rm CO_2$ emissions will heat the planet and therefore the oceans will release more $\rm CO_2$ into the air, as water cannot hold as much $\rm CO_2$ when it is warmer.

Which is true?

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2 Answers 2

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Both processes happen at the same time.

As atmospheric $CO_2$ increases, the oceans will absorb some of that and hence will acidify. The $CO_2$ that remains in the air will heat the air and the oceans. As a result the oceans will release some of that $CO_2$ - until the release balances the absorption.

After equilibrium is reached, any further release of $CO_2$ into the atmosphere will again be partially absorbed by the ocean, until a new equilibrium is reached. The same happens, but in the opposite direction if we remove $CO_2$ from the air.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I fully understand both processes will happen concurrently. However, one process must prevail. Is the equilibrium on the acidic or the alkaline side? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ No, neither process "must prevail". Both processes run until a balance is reached - and their running keeps them there. Think of a car driving under constant engine power: it stays at a constant speed. Now apply slight and constant brake pressure; the car will slow down until the engine can maintain that speed against the brake force. Whether the balance is acidic or alkaline depends on many factors, including the amount of CO2 in water and in air. $\endgroup$
    – hdhondt
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ We may have to agree to disagree. Say CO2 becomes 500ppm, that will [allegedly] have an effect on temperature. The temperature change will alter the amount of CO2 absorption in the oceans. It will go down (releasing more CO2). On the other hand, the additional CO2 will mean there is more co2 available to be absorbed, meaning CO2 in water could potentially increase somewhat. SO, the co2 in the water must equalize as you say, BUT, and back to my main question, in which direction? You cannot have both: more net CO2 AND less net CO2 at the same time. Surely! $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 22:45
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Both are true , When the presence of CO2 molecules are high in the atmosphere the ocean and other materials starts to absorb it. But when the temperature gets high the absorbed CO2 is released out. The absorption can happen at any time thus giving the acidification of sea but the heat will be more potent during the day time hence releasing into atmosphere.

So its probably like a cyclic process in which both happens and cause issue to the environment

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  • $\begingroup$ And oceans are very large bodies of water so temperature isn't necessarily to be the same everywhere (as we have not reached very hot temperature levels yet) so at some places the emission of CO2 could happen at some and not happen at others $\endgroup$
    – Naveen V
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 4:17

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