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Sound and Chemistry

Will ocean acidification interfere with the ability of whales and other animals to communicate, navigate, and find food? WHOI acoustic scientists Tim Duda and Ilya Udovydchenkov undertook a study in response to warnings that as the ocean becomes more acidic—due to elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)—noise from ships will be able to travel farther. Sound waves interact with chemical reactions such as the conversion of borate to boric acid (top), losing energy in the process. In more acidic conditions the amount of energy-absorbing borate will drop, resulting in less loss of energy from sound waves. The WHOI team found that although acidification will allow sound waves to travel farther, the increase in sound level will be negligible compared with noise from natural events such as storms.

(Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)


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