Chemistry (Year 12)
Ocean Acidification and the Kyoto Protocol
As atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide rise due to human activity, oceans are becoming more acidic. This ocean acidification can be understood by using our knowledge of chemical equilibrium systems.
Consider the following equilibria that exist in our oceans...
Using our knowledge of Le Châtelier’s Principle and collision theory, we know that an increase in the partial pressure (or concentration) of atmospheric carbon dioxide will cause the physical equilibrium  to shift to the right, leading to an increase in the concentration of aqueous carbon dioxide.
Using the same principles, this increase in the concentration of aqueous carbon dioxide will shift equilibrium  to the right, increasing the concentration of carbonic acid.
Similarly, the increase in the concentration of carbonic acid will shift equilibrium  to the right, increasing the concentration of hydrogen carbonate anions and hydronium cations. The increase in the concentration of hydronium resulting from this shift will be relatively larger than the increase in hydrogen carbonate (the initial concentration of hydrogen carbonate in the ocean is greater than the initial concentration of hydronium).
The increased concentration of hydronium ions will contribute to an increase in the acidity of our oceans.
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