Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Oceanic Acidification & Seashells

Birds and their eggs aren't the only animals for whom an increasingly acidic environment would cause great harm.  This simple activity demonstrates the effect of acid on shellfish.

You'll need a couple of shells (large or small, any variety, but for the sake of comparison, it's good to have two of the same), two cups or beakers, vinegar and water.

Place each shell in a cup/beaker.

Cover one shell with water.  You might want to use salt water, as these organisms live in the ocean, but I didn't think of that as I was setting things up. You could also do three shells at a time - one in vinegar, one in water and one in salt water.

Cover the other shell with vinegar. 

You'll notice that the shell in the vinegar immediately begins to form bubbles and fizz.  The vinegar is breaking down the calcium carbonate that composes the shell. 

Within 24 hours, you'll notice the shell that was in vinegar has holes in it.  If there was still a creature living in the shell, this could obviously be detrimental.

Vinegar, while a weak acid, is quite a bit stronger than acidified ocean water.  The stronger acid speeds up the process, making it visible within a short period of time - perfect for students to grasp an understanding of the process.  Shells in an acid ocean environment would be subject to the same chemistry, it would just take place at a slower rate.  

You can learn more about the chemistry taking place, as well as ocean acidification here.  

You may wish to continue to leave the shell in the vinegar for an extended time to observe further.  If so, it may be necessary to replace or replenish the vinegar.  (I used a small enough amount of vinegar that the chemical reaction came to a halt within a day or so).


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