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. Carbon dioxide dissolving into water produces carbonic acid, turning 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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