UCSC researcher: Ocean acidification could have broad effects on marine ecosystems

Concern about increasing ocean acidification often focuses on its potential effects on coral reefs, but broader disruptions of biological processes in the oceans may be more significant.

That’s the message Donald Potts, a UC Santa Cruz professor of ecology and evolutionary biology — and an expert in coral reef ecology and marine biodiversity, delivered to contemporaries in a talk on “Geobiological Responses to Ocean Acidification” at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Ocean acidification is one of the side effects of the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels, Potter says. The oceans can absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but as the gas dissolves it makes the water more acidic.

Increasing acidity can make life difficult for corals and other marine organisms that build shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate, Potter says. Scientists fear that acidification will slow the growth of these organisms and cause calcium carbonate structures to dissolve.

Potts agrees that dissolving shells will certainly be a problem for many marine organisms, but he thinks the disruptions will run much deeper.

“It’s not just a question of coral reefs, and it’s not just a question of calcification,” Potts said in a university statement. “What we are potentially looking at are disruptions of developmental processes and of populations and communities on many scales.”

J.M. Brown, The Mercury News, 17 December 2008. Article.

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