We reported earlier this year about the rising acidity of the world's oceans as a consequence of increasing levels of C02 in the atmosphere - as well as how it may likely impact oceans for the coming century.
Publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a University of Chicago study has determined that ocean acidity levels are rising 10 times faster than previously predicted.
The study is based on eight years of research and over 24,00 pH measurements. The oceans act as a carbon sponge, soaking up to a third of the CO2 released into the atmosphere from human activities, and the research confirms a correlation between rising CO2 levels and ocean acidity.
The acidity increased more than 10 times faster than had been predicted by climate change models and other studies,” said lead researcher Timothy Wootton, an ecology and evolution professor at the University of Chicago. “This increase will have a severe impact on marine food webs and suggests that ocean acidification may be a more urgent issue than previously thought.”
Increased acidity can have devastating effects on shellfish and other crustaceans. The absorbed CO2 in the acidic waters dissolves the calcium carbonate required by the marine life to form their protective shells, making survival and reproduction in an already stressed ocean environment even more difficult.
Because these organisms are at the bottom of the ocean food chain, their increased vulnerability due to acidification will likely spread throughout the entire marine ecosystem.
Coral reefs in peril
Like there crustacean brethren, corals depend on calcium carbonate for survival. A report released last month from the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University found that current carbon emissions will likely cause a rise in ocean acidification sufficient to imperil most of the world's coral reefs, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Even if with significant cuts to stabilize future carbon emissions, the report says that more than 90% of the world's reefs will still be in jeopardy.
Alaska's reefs may be the first victims. Washington, D.C.-based Oceana says that the colder northern waters absorb more CO2 than warmer water nearer the tropics, and thus may be a precursor to the fate of reefs worldwide. The waters off Alaska are home to half the commercial fishing in the U.S.
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