Ecological effects of ocean acidification

A major scientific breakthrough reveals the ecological effects of ocean acidification for the first time - using volcanic carbon dioxide vents.


It is estimated that by 2100, CO2 released by human activity will be double pre industrial levels and be higher than at any time in the past few million years, profoundly increasing the acidity of our oceans. But exactly how this will affect marine ecosystems has remained uncertain - until now.
Cladocora caespitosa, growing at normal pH (8.2) outside the vent system (taken by Riccardo Rodolfo-Metalpa)

 An international research team has conducted the very first ecosystem-scale study of the effects of acidification on marine life, as Dr Jason Hall-Spencer explains; "Nobody has looked at the biological effects of ocean acidification on this scale before. Previous studies have been small scale, short-term and laboratory-based, so it has been very difficult to predict the wider effects of increasing CO2 emissions on marine life. We show how whole marine communities and ecosystems change due to the long-term effects of acidification."
The ongoing project focuses on the effects of ocean acidification by monitoring ecosystems in close proximity to submarine volcanic carbon dioxide vents. This innovative approach was developed after the team found that vent systems act as large-scale natural experiments revealing the effects of man-made CO2 emissions.
Jason says these expeditions provide vital information on what major ecological shifts should be expected to occur over the coming decades "Our field studies provide a window on the future of the oceans in a high CO2 world. We show the dramatic ecological consequences of ocean acidification including the removal of corals, snails and sea urchins and the proliferation of invasive alien algae."
"Our observations verify concerns, based on laboratory experiments and model predictions, that marine food webs will be severely disrupted and major ecological tipping points are likely if human CO2 emissions continue unabated."
The research team involved 8 colleagues from France, Israel, UK and Italy. The full report, 'Volcanic carbon dioxide vents show ecosystem effects of ocean acidification' is due to be published in Nature in July 2008. To observe underwater footage from the expedition, please click here.
The research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

CO2 outgassing and a lushPosidonia seagrass meadow
(Courtesy Jason Hall-Spencer)    

C. caespitosa coral that was transplanted into mean pH 7.7 conditions showing skeletal dissolution (taken by Riccardo Rodolfo-Metalpa)

 

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