Dynamic Systems, Ocean Acidification, and Tipping Points

Nonlinear Tipping of Oceanic Carbon Cycle Driving Mass Extinctions: 1 of 2 // Jul 19, 2019

A characteristic of the five large mass extinctions in Earth’s geological history is disruption of the ocean carbon cycle, causing large, rapid ocean acidification. Acidification is proceeding extremely fast today, in what is a human-caused sixth mass extinction.

Some of the rapidly rising carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reacts with water forming carbonic acid, dissociating to bicarbonate ions, then carbonate ions, making the oceans much more acidic.  Like a canoe reaching the tipping point, the ocean carbon cycle can cross a threshold and tip as we drive emissions ever higher.

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Nonlinear Tipping of Oceanic Carbon Cycle Driving Mass Extinctions: 2 of 2 // Jul 19, 2019

What do tipping canoes, phase transitions like water freezing to ice, breaking sticks, chopping down dead trees, the carbon cycle in the ocean, and human relationships all have in common?

Answer: they are highly nonlinear, dynamic systems, that exist in stable states until pushed by some factor above so-called critical thresholds. Then abrupt disruption sweeps the systems to abruptly change towards a new, distant, eventually stable state. Rapid increases in ocean acidification from fossil fuel combustion emissions risks crossing the threshold to a mass extinction.
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About paulbeckwith

Well known climate science educator; Part-time Geography professor (climatology, oceanography, environmental issues), University of Ottawa. Physicist. Engineer. Master's Degree in Science in Laser Optics, Bachelors of Engineering, in Engineering Physics. Won Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario gold medal. Also interested in investment and start-ups in climate solutions, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Avid chess player, and likes restoring old homes. Married with children.
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