Scientists Say: Acidification

This process makes something more acidic


Acidification of the ocean may hurt many of its inhabitants — including sharks.


Acidification (noun, “A-SID-ih-fih-KAY-shun” verb, acidify)

This is any process that makes a solution more acidic. When carbon dioxide dissolves into water, it makes carbonic acid. This turns the water more acidic (although it does not necessarily turn it into an actual acid).

In a sentence

Acidification in the ocean may blunt sharks’ sense of smell — and make it harder for them to hunt.

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Power Words

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acidification    A process that lowers the pH of a solution. When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it triggers chemical reactions that create carbonic acid.

carbon dioxide (or CO2)   A colorless, odorless gas produced by all animals when the oxygen they inhale reacts with the carbon-rich foods that they’ve eaten. Carbon dioxide also is released when organic matter (including fossil fuels like oil or gas) is burned. Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, the process they use to make their own food.

carbonic acid    A solution of carbon dioxide in water.

pH    A measure of a solution’s acidity. A pH of 7 is perfectly neutral. Acids have a pH lower than 7; the farther from 7, the stronger the acid. Alkaline solutions, called bases, have a pH higher than 7; again, the farther above 7, the stronger the base.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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