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Oceans Flounder In Face of Heavy Carbon Emissions

July 10, 2008 06:00 AM
by Rachel Balik
Researchers at the University of Hawaii have found carbon dioxide is changing the chemical make-up of Earth’s oceans.

30-Second Summary

According to a new study published in Science, the carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s oceans is causing an increase in the acidity of the water, with potentially fatal repercussions for marine life, including coral. “If we continue with business as usual and don’t cut carbon dioxide emissions, carbonate reefs will ultimately start to dissolve,” said Richard Zeebe, a researcher at the University of Hawaii. He and his co-authors have calculated the emission reductions that will be necessary to stop this process, and the numbers are larger than those currently recommended.

Scientists have been concerned about the effects of increased carbon dioxide on ocean chemistry for some time now. It has caused the acidity of normally alkaline ocean waters to increase enough to hamper production of calcium carbonate, a mineral that composes marine animal skeletons and coral reefs. An author of a 2006 study reported that “decreased calcification in marine algae and animals is likely to impact marine food webs and has the potential to substantially alter the biodiversity and productivity of the ocean.”

Policy makers are instituting plans for lower emissions rates but since oceans absorb 40 percent of carbon dioxide, they require particular attention. The new study recommends that “ocean chemistry changes, and not only climate effects, should be taken into consideration when determining CO2 emission targets.”

The recent G8 Summit produced a statement from world leaders promising to reduce carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050. That reduction may be inadequate where oceans are concerned.

Headline Link: ‘Emissions are Changing Oceans, Scientists Report’

Background: The threat of carbon dioxide in oceans

Related Topics: Damaged ocean ecosystems and plans to reduce emissions

G8 environmental goals

The “dead zone”

Reference: Understanding the effects of carbon dioxide emissions


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