It has been long suspected that high acid levels in oceans will ultimately slow the growth of coral reefs but new research finds that it may already be happening.
Man-made carbon dioxide emissions are causing detrimental effects on the ecosystems of the oceans. New research suggests that carbon dioxide is increasing ocean acidification and is slowing the growth rate of coral reefs.
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Almost 40% of carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans and reacts with seawater to form an acid that is harmful for marine life especially to coral reefs. Science has long suspected that high acid levels in ocean will ultimately hamper the growth of delicate coral reefs but new research finds that it is already happening.
For the first time, a team of researchers led by researchers from Carnegie Institution of Science have manipulated the seawater chemistry in an actual reef community to access the impact of carbon emissions on coral reefs.
“We manipulated the current conditions of seawater by scooping 15,000 litres of water into a tank similar in shape to a large inflatable pool. We then pumped the water onto the reef, measuring the difference in response between present-day water and pre-industrial conditions.” Kennedy Wolfe from University of Sydney said.
Coral reef communities are constructed when calcium carbonate becomes harder. The process is known as calcification and it becomes difficult when acid concentrations increase and pH level of surrounding water decrease.
To test the impact ocean acidification on reefs, researchers increased the pH of water in One Tree Island by adding sodium hydroxide, meaning they brought the pH closer to the pre-industrial times when both carbon emissions and levels of acid were less. Researchers found that coral reef grew 7% more in that alkaline water compared to more acidic water today.
“Our work provides the first strong evidence from experiments on a natural ecosystem that ocean acidification is already causing reefs to grow more slowly than they did 100 years ago,” said Rebecca Albright. “Ocean acidification is already taking its toll on coral reef communities. This is no longer a fear of the future; it’s really of today.”
Since the start of industrial revolution in 1800s, the world’s ocean have grown nearly 30% more acidic. Increasing the pH or alkalinity of water around reef communities could possibly reverse the effects of carbon dioxide. But it is virtually impossible to implement such measures in large scale.
“The only real, lasting way to protect coral reefs is to make deep cuts in our carbon dioxide emissions,” said lead researcher Ken Caldeira.
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“If we don’t take action on this issue very rapidly, coral reefs and everything that depends on them, including both wildlife and local communities, will not survive into next century.”