German scientist warns of ocean acidification – koreatimes


Axel Timmermann, director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, gives a lecture on ocean acidification at a hotel in Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of Embassy of Germany in Korea
Axel Timmermann, director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, gives a lecture on ocean acidification at a hotel in Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of Embassy of Germany in Korea


By Kwon Mee-yoo

The impact of carbon dioxide on climate change is widely known, but it influence on oceans and marine life as it accumulates in the form of carbonic acid in the ocean is less spoken about.

The German Embassy in Korea offered a lecture at Grand Hyatt Seoul, Wednesday, by Axel Timmermann, a German scientist studying climate change focusing on the ocean, to raise awareness about ocean acidification.

German Ambassador to Korea, Michael Reiffenstuel, opened the event by highlighting the accomplishments of German scientists. Two German scientists won the Nobel Prize this year ― Klaus Hasselmann in physics and Benjamin List in chemistry.

“Germany and South Korea are both countries that have committed to rapid and significant reductions in their carbon dioxide emissions. And we hope that with today’s event, we can provide further motivation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” Reiffenstuel said.

“This year’s Nobel Prize winner in physics, Professor Klaus Hasselmann, was and is a tireless monitor against climate change. Now in his 90s, he became involved early on with the study of manmade climate change and greenhouse gases.

“He said in a 1983 interview already, in 30 to 100 years, depending on how much fossil fuel we consume, we will be facing quite significant climate change and we should realize that we are entering a situation where there is no turning back and this was in 1988. The award this year is therefore not only an important signal for science, but also an important signal for all.”

Axel Timmermann, director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, gives a lecture on ocean acidification at a hotel in Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of Embassy of Germany in Korea
Axel Timmermann, director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, poses ahead of his lecture on ocean acidification at a hotel in Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of Embassy of Germany in Korea


Timmermann, who studied under Hasselmann, currently serves as director of the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University.

Timmermann dubbed the ocean acidification issue as the “second carbon dioxide problem,” since it has a major impact on the ecosystem and food security worldwide.

With a soda can in his hand, the professor explained the basics of carbon dioxide in the water. When carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater, it forms carbonic acid, which breaks down into bicarbonate ions and make seawater more acidic.

“The drop of pH (acidification) is much smaller in the ocean than one might expect due to the buffering capacity of the ocean. It is the natural capacity of the water to resist or withstand a change in the acidity,” Timmermann said.

When more carbon dioxide is absorbed by water, it increases the buffer reaction and fewer carbonate ions will be available since they have transformed to bicarbonate ions.

“The more we have this reaction, the less efficient it will become. So the buffering capacity will drop with increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, which means if this reaction has taken place many times in the ocean, the ocean will be less likely capable of taking up new carbon dioxide,” he explained.

He also explained the impact of ocean acidification on calcium carbonate, which builds the shells and skeletons of marine organisms such as coralline algae, mussels, oysters and some planktons.

The scientist also noted the impact of climate change and ocean acidification especially on Korea, as a country surrounded by waters. According to a climate model developed by Hasselmann, if humans continue to emit carbon dioxide at the current rate, the typical calcification of organisms will not be possible in seawater around South Korea by 2100.

“What we will see is that ocean acidification will take place in the surroundings, in the waters surrounding Korea. Detailed effect it will have on aquaculture, fisheries and so on is something that still needs to be explored … because this is absolutely crucial to understand ― how will Korea be affected in terms of food availability?”

Timmermann also noted that accelerated sea level rise is a different aspect of the carbon dioxide problem that will affect Korea.

“Korea is a maritime nation with lots of coastline. Sea level rise will also affect Korea dramatically,” he said.

Timmermann said the best way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to save energy.

“It’s difficult to see the path very clearly to become carbon neutral by 2050. But it has to be done. Maybe new technologies and, in particular, the awareness that we need to save energy in a large scale will affect our behavior globally,” he said.

“There is a possibility that we can change our path. We cannot avoid it completely, but we can determine how bad it is going to be in the future for future generations.”

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