The dark side of a carbon sponge – acidified seawater

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….

What used to be good news on the climate change front turns out to have a dark side. Scientists have known for years that the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere believed to be creating a greenhouse effect has been slowed by the capacity of the oceans to act as a carbon sink.
A study published in the online version of Science magazine this week found that that carbon dioxide has been acidifying the water to a degree that threatens one of the crucial links in the ocean food chain, known as a sea butterfly.

The sea butterflies, or pteropods, are a tiny snail that floats in the water. They are having trouble forming shells, because the acidified water dissolves the new growth.

Ocean acidification was thought be be a problem only in very deep water, but the study published in Science found that upwelling along the west coast of North America was bringing the problem close enough to the surface to threaten all manner of sea life that feed on the sea butterflies, including salmon.

What other unpleasant surprises lie ahead?

Margaret Munro, The Vancouver Sun, 23 May 2008. Article.

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