Ocean Acidification Combatted by Canadian Google Science Fair Finalist

Isabella O'Brien has invented a method to help keep the ocean from becoming more acidic over time. Her idea is one of twenty finalists in the 2015 Google Science Fair.

Isabella O’Brien wants to help solve the problem of ocean acidification. O’Brien is one of the twenty Global Finalists in the 2015 Google Science Fair, with winners to be announced on September 21, 2015. Her inspiration came after a diving trip in Mexico where she saw large amounts of dead coral and wanted to find a way to stop the destruction of the marine environment.

O’Brien’s project is titled Trouble in Paradise: Can Shell Recycling Help Buffer the Effects of Ocean Acidifcation? Her problem was the CO2 absorption in the seawater that leads to decrease in the water’s pH level and ocean acidification. Higher acid levels can dissolve shellfish and cause shells to lighten or degrade. The estimate that six million metric tons of shell waste is produced each year led to her big idea. Using this mussel, clam and oyster waste along with the calcium carbonate in the shells Isabella hoped to stabilize the ocean’s pH levels.

Research was done into the process of acidification, the chemistry of seawater and carbon emissions. Three seawater samples were tested; Solution A had a pH of 7.5, the projected level in the year 2100. Solution B had a pH of 7.5 with mussel, clam and oyster shell powder added. The third solution was used as control, using the current ocean pH of 8.1.

Three shell samples of mussels, clams and oysters were placed into mason jars of the three solutions, for a total of twenty seven different data points. Every two weeks the mass of the shells was taken and the pH measured. This went on for twelve weeks to see what effect the additional acid in the water would have on the test samples.

The general results of O’Briens’ experiment were that all three types of shells in the current ocean water had the least reduction in weight. Solution B with the powder had a slower rate of weight loss than Solution C without powder. A detailed discussion of her methods, testing procedures and results are on the Google Science Fair page.

This is an amazingly well done experiment showing the effects of adding shell powder to sea water as a possible tool to keep our oceans from becoming more acidic. Isabella is a 13 year old from Dundas, Ontario and cites several Canadian scientists and student inventors as her influences. Teaching young engineers and scientists to find problems to solve and then develop solutions to those problems is incredibly important.

(Images courtesy of the Trouble in Paradise Google Science Fair page)