Ocean acidification: the other problem with CO2

In our most recent virtual issue, you will find several research articles related to the theme, “Ocean Acidification: Causes, Consequences, and Cures”. It is part of an effort to organize ES&T content for readers and draw added attention to important findings. These papers will commence a virtual series known as an “ES&T Select”. Climate change has been called the most vexing environmental problem of the 21st century, and ocean acidification (OA) is just one manifestation of it. It is caused by the increasing partial pressure of carbon dioxide, a weak acid, in sea surface waters (see 2014 National Climate Assessment). A wicked problem with an immense mass signature of CO2, ocean acidification foretells a long recovery period even after greenhouse gases are reduced in the atmosphere. (…)

The “other problem” of carbon dioxide−ocean acidification may prove to be even more intractable than a warming planet. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, earth’s oceans have absorbed 560 billion tons of CO2 which has increased acidity by 30% and suppressed the pH of surface waters from 8.2 to 8.07. Ocean acidification cannot be fixed by “geoengineering” measures, like shooting reflective aerosols high into the stratosphere to cool the earth when things get really hot. Geoengineering cannot neutralize the acidity and the second problem will remain. There is no “silver bullet” other than halting fossil fuel emissions. We are locked-in to this “other problem” for many decades. I wish I could ask climate skeptics a simple question, “What level of CO2 are you willing to accept:450, 550, 650, or 750 ppm? When should we start to stop?” Models project an ocean pH of 7.8 by the end of this century. Coral reefs and all organisms which calcify a shell are at grave risk.

In this ES&T select, you will find new research on ocean acidification. Ecotoxicology is the subject of several of the articles. Thiyagarajan et al. (es-2014-01611u) discussed the deleterious effects of pH, elevated temperatures, and reduced salinities on the Pacific Oyster in Yellow Sea coastal waters; while Lewis et al. (es-2014-02739m) documented increased copper toxicity on the polychaete Arenicola marina at pH and pCO2 concentrations relevant to those expected in the 21st century. Higher pCO2 and ocean acidities are expected to cause dissolution of carbonate minerals and the release of toxic metals from sediments. Trafford et al. (es-2014-01564q), Riba et al. (es-2014-015373), and Levin et al. (es-201-00514j) published results on the dissolution of high magnesium-calcite minerals in Australian seabeds, toxic effects of sediments on amphipods in the Gulf of Caidiz, and geochemical proxies (U/Ca ratios in shells) for estimating integrated exposures of larval mussels, respectively. Widdicombe et al. (es-2014-01601w) used 1H NMR spectroscopy and metabolomics to report fascinating differences among male and female blue mussels, Mytilus edulis, in 90-day exposures to reduced seawater pH and increased temperatures.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification: the other problem with CO2′

Aquatic bacteria withstands predicted acidity changes

Marine bacterial communities are highly resistant to elevated carbon dioxide levels and ocean acidification, a new study has found.

The research, involving the University of Western Australia, the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and the NERC Centre for Hydrology in Wallingford, UK, tested direct bacterial community responses to elevated CO2 in a replicated seawater experiment.

They used six 11,000 litre experimental water enclosures (or mesocosms), three of which were left as ambient controls and three which were enriched with elevated CO2 to replicate projected ocean conditions 100 years from now.

The scientists then sparged the experimental mesocosms with CO2 and established a pH of approximately 7.8, which is 0.3pH lower than present conditions and is the level expected a century from now due to ocean acidification.

Continue reading ‘Aquatic bacteria withstands predicted acidity changes’

Webinar: “How to frame the issue of ocean acidification”, 24 September 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 7a-8am Alaska Time

Sponsor: SOARCE webinar series, NOAA NMS and OAP

Speaker: Alexis Bunten, The FrameWorks Institute

Abstract: Did you ever wonder just what is in peoples’ heads that causes them to reach the wrong conclusions (despite the provision of accurate information) about the environmental issues that affect our lives? This webinar shares the latest findings from cognitive research conducted by the FrameWorks Institute about how to communicate the issue of ocean acidification to the public. In this webinar, you will learn the widely shared cultural schemas that shape Americans’ preconceived biases around the issue of ocean acidification. These pervasive patterns of thought, called “cultural models,” prevent Americans from understanding of the cause and solution to ocean acidification. Researchers at the FrameWorks Institute tested ways to best communicate ocean acidification to the public using explanation and metaphor. The results of FrameWorks rigorous descriptive and experimental research process will be presented along with opportunities to practice and ask questions. Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now at: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/525163738. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

Continue reading ‘Webinar: “How to frame the issue of ocean acidification”, 24 September 2014′

MacArthur funds team bracing for climate change on the East Coast

Extreme weather events like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy have focused East Coasters on the scary realities of climate change. One group of researchers and regional nonprofits is teaming up to assess the threats and help communities prepare, with a $1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.(…)

Ocean acidification will be one of the main focuses in the research. One of the most renowned research institutions in the region is studying the array of threats facing the coastal Northeast, focusing on Buzzards Bay, the body of water just south of Cape Cod. With a $1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is working closely with conservation nonprofits in Buzzards Bay to make a multi-pronged evaluation of the threats facing the spot. It’s hoping to develop potential science-based solutions and adaptations that will be applicable broadly to communities on the East Coast.

Continue reading ‘MacArthur funds team bracing for climate change on the East Coast’

Study: ocean algae can evolve fast to tackle climate change

Tiny marine algae can evolve fast enough to cope with climate change in a sign that some ocean life may be more resilient than thought to rising temperatures and acidification, a study showed.

Evolution is usually omitted in scientific projections of how global warming will affect the planet in coming decades because genetic changes happen too slowly to help larger creatures such as cod, tuna or whales.

Sunday’s study found that a type of microscopic algae that can produce 500 generations a year – or more than one a day – can still thrive when exposed to warmer temperatures and levels of ocean acidification predicted for the mid-2100s.

The Emiliania huxleyi phytoplankton studied are a main source of food for fish and other ocean life and also absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as they grow. Their huge blooms can sometimes be seen from space.

Continue reading ‘Study: ocean algae can evolve fast to tackle climate change’

What will survive in hot, acidic oceans?

Marine losers abound in the hustling currents of warming and acidifying oceans. Trying to figure out which types of sea life, particularly those that form calcium carbonate-rich cells and exoskeletons, such as some plankton, corals, and shellfish, will thrive amid climate change can be like playing a high-stakes shell game.

New research suggests that at least one type of plankton could overcome what would seem to be long odds, and double down on its ecosystem dominance. The surprise finding is a positive early development in an oft-bleak field as scientists start to investigate which marine species face the greatest risks of dying out — their shells emptied by the lethal effects of environmental switcheroos.

Most of global warming’s heat is ending up in the oceans, making the waters less hospitable for many species. And a quarter of the carbon dioxide pumped into the air by humans is dissolving into oceans, where it undergoes chemical reactions that increase the water’s acidity by reducing concentrations of carbonates that some organisms use to produce shells. These changes have contributed to coral bleaching, to holes in sea snail shells, and to die-offs at oyster farms.

Continue reading ‘What will survive in hot, acidic oceans?’

Adaptation of a globally important coccolithophore to ocean warming and acidification

Although ocean warming and acidification are recognized as two major anthropogenic perturbations of today’s oceans we know very little about how marine phytoplankton may respond via evolutionary change. We tested for adaptation to ocean warming in combination with ocean acidification in the globally important phytoplankton species Emiliania huxleyi. Temperature adaptation occurred independently of ocean acidification levels. Growth rates were up to 16% higher in populations adapted for one year to warming when assayed at their upper thermal tolerance limit. Particulate inorganic (PIC) and organic (POC) carbon production was restored to values under present-day ocean conditions, owing to adaptive evolution, and were 101% and 55% higher under combined warming and acidification, respectively, than in non-adapted controls. Cells also evolved to a smaller size while they recovered their initial PIC:POC ratio even under elevated CO2. The observed changes in coccolithophore growth, calcite and biomass production, cell size and elemental composition demonstrate the importance of evolutionary processes for phytoplankton performance in a future ocean.

Continue reading ‘Adaptation of a globally important coccolithophore to ocean warming and acidification’


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