Ocean acidification reaches deep-sea corals

With increasing levels of carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere and moving into the world’s oceans, marine waters have become more acidic, scientists have shown. The long hand of acidification is reaching far down in The Deep. Corallium rubrum (pictured here) and other deep-sea corals are now being affected.

To address the growing concern for acidifying marine ecosystems, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded 21 grants under the Ocean Acidification theme of its Climate Research Investment. The awards are supported and managed by NSF’s Office of Polar Programs, Directorate for Geosciences and Directorate for Biological Sciences. Projects will support research on the nature, extent and effects of ocean acidification on marine environments and organisms in the past, present and future — from tropical systems to icy seas.

Animal species from pteropods — delicate, butterfly-like planktonic drifters — to hard corals are affected by ocean acidification; so, too, are the unseen microbes that fuel ocean productivity and influence the chemical functioning of ocean waters. As oceans become more acidic, the balance of molecules needed for shell-bearing organisms to manufacture shells and skeletons is altered.  The physiology of many marine species, from microbes to fish, may be affected.

Has ocean life faced similar challenges in our planet’s past?

“Earth system history informs our understanding of the effects of ocean acidification on the present-day and future ocean,” said Tim Killeen, NSF Assistant Director for Geosciences. “For a true comprehension of how acidification will change the oceans,” said Killeen, “we must integrate paleoecology with marine chemistry, physics, and ecology, and an understanding of the past environmental conditions on Earth.”

NSF’s ocean acidification awards involve researchers from all these disciplines.

“Ocean acidification likely affects marine ecosystems, life histories, food webs and biogeochemical cycling,” said Karl Erb, Director of NSF’s Office of Polar Programs. “We need to understand the chemistry of ocean acidification and its interplay with marine biochemical and physiological processes — before Earth’s seas become inhospitable to life as we know it.”

Cheryl Dybas, National Science Foundation, 14 December 2010. Article.


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