Reef madness: Warming could devastate world’s coral

Rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels will likely devastate the world’s coral reefs in upcoming decades, report scientists Ken Caldeira and Long Cao of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, Calif., this week. Ocean water absorbs the additional CO2, causing chemical reactions that are extremely harmful to coral.

“If current trends in CO2 emissions continue unabated,” says Caldeira, “in the next few decades, we will produce chemical conditions in the oceans that have not been seen for tens of millions of years. Ecosystems like coral reefs…just won’t be able to cope with the change.”

The coral reefs and other marine ecosystems could be nearly wiped out even if atmospheric carbon dioxide stabilizes at 450 parts per million (ppm), a level far below that of many climate-change projections. The researchers’ conclusions are based on computer simulations of ocean chemistry at atmospheric CO2 levels ranging from 280 (pre-industrial levels) to 2,000 ppm. Present levels are 380 ppm and are rising rapidly.

The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Bob Swanson and Doyle Rice,, 25 September 2008. Article.

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