New Report Maps Growing Impact Of Ocean Acidification On Marine Life Worldwide

Global collaboration among scientists is critical to developing new ways to measure and mitigate the damage caused by ocean acidification, experts urge.
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    Credit Institute of Marine Sciences

    Credit Institute of Marine Sciences

    AUSTIN, Texas — New research maps the growing impact of ocean acidification and identifies the regions worst affected, while scientists and world governments are collaborating more and sharing ways to slow or reverse its progress.

    Fossil fuels and human industry are releasing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere where it is absorbed by the oceans as carbonic acid, an invisible but highly destructive substance that’s rapidly changing the chemistry of the earth’s waters and disrupting underwater ecosystems in a process called ocean acidification.

    The latest effort at mapping ocean acidification comes from research led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published last week in the science journal “Global Biogeochemical Cycles.” The study tracked the saturation levels of the mineral aragonite, which is crucial to the formation of shells in marine species.

    According to the NOAA, “The study identifies the Arctic and Antarctic oceans, and the upwelling ocean waters off the west coasts of North America, South America and Africa as regions that are especially vulnerable to ocean acidification.”

    This map shows the global distribution of aragonite saturation at 50 meters depth. The graphic shows areas that are most vulnerable to ocean acidification since they are regions where the saturation of aragonite is lower. Aragonite is a calcium carbonate mineral that shellfish use to build their shells.

    This map shows the global distribution of aragonite saturation at 50 meters depth. The graphic shows areas that are most vulnerable to ocean acidification since they are regions where the saturation of aragonite is lower. Aragonite is a calcium carbonate mineral that shellfish use to build their shells.

    Previous research has shown reduced levels of aragonite to be a side effect of ocean acidification that can harm the health of shellfish like oysters and, in extreme cases, cause their populations to plummet. This has already had a negative impact on the fishing industry, especially on the west coast of the United States.

    In an editorial for The New York Times published Thursday, Richard W. Spinrad, chief scientist at NOAA, and Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to England’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wrote that international cooperation is needed to measure and prevent the worsening of ocean acidification, which they emphasized is just one of several problems threatening the seas:

    “The ocean is warming; in many places the oxygen critical to marine life is decreasing; pollution from plastics and other materials is pervasive; and in general we overexploit the resources of the ocean. Each stressor is a problem, but all of them affecting the oceans at one time is cause for great concern. For both the developing and developed world, the implications for food security, economies at all levels, and vital goods and services are immense.”

    In addition to the effect on shellfish, Spinrad and Boyd note that ocean acidification can have widespread and unpredictable effects, from making coral clownfish behave in ways that make them vulnerable to predators to causing the rapid growth of toxic species of algae that can threaten fish and other wildlife. One recent study in North Carolina showed crabs have a reduced ability to forage for food in acidic waters.

    According to Spinrad and Boyd, the U.S. and U.K. are collaborating with scientists from 30 countries to create the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network, a new network of sensors that will help more precisely measure the extent of the problem.

    In another sign of international collaboration, Dr. Elizabeth Jewett, head of the NOAA’s ocean acidification program, traveled to New Zealand this month to consult with scientists from 13 Pacific island nations.

    “We also are predicting impacts on coral reefs’ ecosystems, and that’s very very important for the Pacific islands,” Jewett told a reporter from Radio New Zealand on Oct. 12.

    There are some techniques that could mitigate the damage caused by ocean acidification. Studying why some coral appear to be more resilient than others could lead to clues about how to protect crucial reef ecosystems.

    Another solution highlighted by Jewett was farming sea grasses. NOAA research, which is detailed in a September report from FIS, a seafood industry news site, suggests that seaweed farms could help combat ocean acidification by removing carbon dioxide from the water.

    Watch “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn” from The Seattle Times:

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    • Val Valerian

      More than 90% of the worlds active volcanoes are beneath the ocean, pouring acids into the water, as well as the mid-ocean trench eruptive zones. One may assume that the increase in frequency of observed volcanic eruptions on the surface (now that we’re entering a new 10,000 year period of increased volcanism) also indicates a general pattern planet-wide, which includes what happens under the ocean. It is the main source of acidification, and it has happened a number of times over the history of the planet. There is nothing man can ‘do about it’. Ocean life has disappeared and re-appeared for a number of reasons, over time. It just is what it is. The volcanoes on the surface put out hundreds of times more CO2 into the air than the civilization does. One super-eruption and its all over for the civilization. The concept that ‘man is putting CO2 Into the air and is acidifying the oceans” is absolutely ludicrous.

      • SvenTheBold

        When Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted in 1815, it plunged Europe into a cold spell. The following year was called “the year without a summer”. The Thames froze over, and ice festivals were held on its surface. And when Krakatoa erupted in 1883, the Northern Hemisphere’s temperatures dropped by 1.2 degrees Celsius and southern California received torrential rains. Los Angeles received 38.18 inches; San Diego, 25.97.

        What part of that exactly sounds like the modern day, with a drought-stricken Cali and a warming world?

        You say that there has been an increase in global volcanism. I think that’s an absolutely ridiculous assertion, given that our species has already experienced first-hand the fact that volcanic eruptions tend quite strongly to lead to global *cooling*, not warming. But even then, there’s still a way we can test your ridiculous assertion.

        Here. The above link is to the Smithsonian’s database of global volcanism. I want you to go to that link, and run a search for all confirmed volcanic eruptions. You can then download it to an excel document, and count the number of volcanic eruptions per year.

        I want you to be a citizen-scientist, and use facts to back up your claims.

        In the meantime, I want you to explain why exactly you believe that the Washington Post and the scientific studies they cite are wrong when they claim that the melting of ice sheets causes changes in the distribution of mass around the globe, and that these changes in mass cause changes in the internal pressure distribution, leading to changes in volcanism.

        Because it seems to me that since global warming leads to volcanism, then if volcanism were to *also* lead to global warming, then we would only have a much, much bigger problem.