Rate of ocean acidification the fastest in 65 million years

A new model, capable of assessing the rate at which the oceans are acidifying, suggests that changes in the carbonate chemistry of the deep ocean may exceed anything seen in the past 65 million years.

The model also predicts much higher rates of environmental change at the ocean’s surface in the future than have occurred in the past, potentially exceeding the rate at which plankton can adapt.

The research, from the University of Bristol, is reported in this week’s issue of Nature Geoscience.



The team applied a model that compared current rates of ocean acidification with the greenhouse event at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, about 55 million years ago when surface ocean temperatures rose by around 5-6°C over a few thousand years. During this event, no catastrophe is seen in surface ecosystems, such as plankton, yet bottom-dwelling organisms in the deep ocean experienced a major extinction.

Dr Andy Ridgwell, lead author on the paper, said: “Unlike surface plankton dwelling in a variable habitat, organisms living deep down on the ocean floor are adapted to much more stable conditions. A rapid and severe geochemical change in their environment would make their survival precarious.

“The widespread extinction of these ocean floor organisms during the Paleocene-Eocene greenhouse warming and acidification event tells us that similar extinctions in the future are possible.”

University of Bristol. 14 February 2010. Full article.

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