The oceans have trapped roughly a third of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, said professor Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Germany's Potsdam Institute for Research into Climatic Effects.
Because carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, its high concentration in the oceans is contributing to global warming, as well as turning ocean waters acidic, which prevents vital sea life from properly forming.
"The oceans are rapidly changing," said Rahmstorf. "Ocean acidification is a major threat to marine organisms."
Acidic ocean waters are also depleting fish stocks and coral reefs, which "fundamentally" alter the world's food chain, Rahmstorf said in his study, "The Future Oceans -- Warming Up, Rising High, Turning Sour." In the study, Rahmstorf and eight other scientists warn that the world is witnessing problems similar to the acid rain phenomenon of the 1970s and 80s.
According to David Santillo, a senior marine biologist at Greenpeace's Research Laboratories in Exeter, Britain, many scientists are unaware that the oceans are becoming acidic because of carbon dioxide emissions.
"The ... effect for humans is that some of these marine resources that we rely on may not be available in the future," Santillo said.
Rahmstorf also warned that trapped carbon dioxide gasses in the oceans are helping fuel global warming. Within 70 years, he predicts world temperature increases will result in frequent storms that will threaten 200 million people with floods.
Scientists from more than 100 countries are attending the UN meeting in Nairobi to discuss possible solutions to climate change. The 35 industrialized countries that agreed to the 1997 Kyoto accord -- which prompted a 5 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2010 -- are discussing emissions targets for beyond 2012.