The Pacific Ocean’s acidification laboratory

Five years ago, at the quadrennial International Coral Reef Symposium in Okinawa, Japan, a poll of the scientists and resource managers present ranked ocean acidification 38th out of a list of 39 possible threats facing reefs, recalls Rusty Brainard, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. Last year, at the same conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., “Acidification was mentioned almost everywhere.”

As it happens, the perfect in vivo laboratory to study ocean acidification lies across the Pacific from Brainard’s office in Honolulu, Hawaii: it’s the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, located north of Guam and south of Japan. The Marianas offer a unique set of pristine ecosystems living side by side with hydrothermal vents both deep and shallow, spewing gaseous and even liquid CO2 and SO2. Near one vent, the pH of the water is 1.

Pala, C., 2009. The Pacific Ocean’s Acidification Laboratory. Environmental Science & Technology 43(17): 6451-6452. Article (subscription required).

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