Despite the initial confusion from the title, “Dropping Acid” is aptly named for its focus on ocean acidification and its particular effects on coral reefs. The chapter, from the book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History written by Elizabeth Kolbert, uses a first person narrative point of view to offer scientific historical context and insight into research for a better understanding on the issue of ocean acidification. For those who do not know, ocean acidification is the increase in the ocean’s pH levels due to the absorption of the rising atmospheric CO2 levels by surface waters. This particularly affects coral reefs because they reside in shallow waters due to their reliance on the Sun for photosynthesis.
I think that the text as a whole has great organization and lays out the explanation and elaboration of ocean acidification very well. It also discusses its effects on coral as it coincides with an aside, yet relevant, narration of the authors’ experience on a research island. The fluidity between history, scientific information, and the personal story makes the text very easy to read, which is a powerful technique. Also, the constant change of information from history to relevant data to the story and back helps maintain reader interest instead of having separate sections that seem to drag on interminably. I think that this section of the book is informative and enjoyable to read as both a young scientist and a general reader.
Within the text itself, Kolbert uses a language strategy to bridge a knowledge gap between the science and everyday reader. She uses of the word “paradox” to explain the concept of homeostasis and the imbalances within environments that keep them in check. Kolbert initially uses the term on page 129 and 130 in order to describe the coral itself, a being that is “at once teeming with life and, at the same time, mostly death”. Kolbert uses this term to describe the constant fluctuation and incorporation of both dead and live materials and methods to maintain life itself. Many people do not realize that death is so necessary to sustain life, probably because most people do not see dead organisms as valuable resources like other organisms do. This use of dead materials to maintain life is the ambiguity Kolbert makes easier to understand by calling the processes a paradox, to let the reader know that it does not necessarily need to make sense to be possible.
Kolbert uses paradoxes farther down in the chapter when explaining “Darwin’s paradox” which was stated earlier in the chapter. People have been trying to understand the reef paradox for a while, how such a vibrant ecosystem could thrive in what is essentially “a marine Sahara”, also known as the rest of the open ocean (pg. 140). The author also expresses how the resilience of corals is paradoxical, on page 141, due to the environmental vulnerability and sensitivity corals have, yet they are also one of the oldest system of organisms on Earth.
I admire the authors use of paradoxes in her text and I think that she has pointed out important ideas to both her general readers and a scientific audience. The more I went back and looked through the paper, the more I began to realize that so much of nature and natural processes can be seen as a paradox. I loved her story too and how so much of her experiences with other renowned marine scientists were good ones, which makes me excited to be working among these people as well. Reading about her experience not only doing work and research about coral, but learning about other marine scientists started to me more eager to be amongst them in this career field.
Overall, I really found myself enjoying this chapter in Kolbert’s book, which I previously had a list on books I wanted to read, but now it’s higher up on my list. This article is very insightful and I found myself learning more about a topic that holds a majority of my interest. I am very passionate about the effects of climate change and anthropogenic activity on the ocean, so this article was right up my alley. Even if a scientific article’s focus is something I love, I usually still have trouble getting through them due to their length and dry nature, but this article kept me informed while keeping me interested. In general, this article did exactly what it was written to do and it impressed me. I really like this article and the ideas presented and I would recommend it to anyone interested in coral reefs.