Reefs in Peril

Dr. Nancy Knowlton is a coral reef scientist who studies their ecology and evolution, including the impact of climate change. The founding director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of California, San Diego, she is also a professor at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Her contributions have been crucial to the advancement of coral reef science.

Today, Knowlton holds the Sant Chair in Marine Science, recently awarded by the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Occupying the museum’s first funded chair in marine sciences, Knowlton will provide leadership to the Smithsonian’s Ocean Initiative, an interdisciplinary move to foster greater public understanding of ocean issues.

A chat with Knowlton is like opening a trunk of coral knowledge. The conversation revolved around a recently released article Knowlton co-authored in the journal Science entitled “Coral Reefs under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification.” The piece presented a dire scenario of increasing decline and loss of coral reefs, based on the best available scientific information and the most positive climate change and carbon emission scenarios of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Ocean acidification” is a recently introduced term for an observed reduction in seawater pH. It is triggered by the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), which reacts with naturally occurring carbonate ions in the ocean, to produce carbonic acid. The change in chemical conditions affects corals and other organisms that need carbonates to build their calcium carbonate skeletons. The phenomenon, together with climate change, increases ocean temperatures and more frequent bleaching events might be too much for coral reefs to handle.

Katherine Cure, Article.

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