Speaker says acidification killing oceans

Last night students in the Marine Biology program at the University of Rhode Island attended a lecture called, “The State of Our Oceans,” which focused on coral reefs in the ocean and how they may soon disappear due to Oceanic Acidification.

Andrew Dickson, professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography which is located in La Jolla, Calif., discussed how ocean acidification affects the marine life in the oceans.

Dickson explained how an increase in carbon dioxide decreases the PH levels in water which is essential to healthy sea creatures and plants in the ocean. He said it would take tens of thousands of years to fully recover.

“As we burn things to make energy, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere and a significant amount goes into the oceans,” Dickson said. “About 30 percent of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has gone into the oceans.”

Brad Seibel, a URI biology professor, explained why carbon dioxide released by humans is harmful to sea creatures. When carbon dioxide enters sea creatures it causes acidosis in cells. This is an increased acidity in the blood that can be life threatening to any creature, including humans. Siebel said an acid base imbalance can lead to energetic challenges.

He also said that if certain species die off because of the acid imbalances that oceanic acidification creates, many other fish are at risk as well. This is because they will be left with no food supply. He said if gymnosomata species also known as “sea angels” die off, then whales and other fish will be struggling to find other species to feed on.

Seibel also mentioned how oceanic acidification impacts the energy budget, sea ice and the general ecology of marine life.

Anne Cohen, research scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which is located in Cape Cod, Mass. said humans have an impact on oceanic acidification and coral reefs. She said healthy coral makes calcium carbonate crystals 1,000 times quicker than scientists can in a lab. Due to the unhealthy PH levels other coral is at risk if these crystals aren’t produced at a steady rate, Cohen added.

“At a 7.4 PH, coral skeletons dissolve and don’t grow back,” Cohen said.

Cohen showed students the visible impact that carbon dioxide has on coral skeletons in a picture that showed a healthy coral skeleton that was isolated from humans and one that was located close to a resort where approximately 6,000 people stayed. The one located near the resort was struggling to survive and had less marine life feeding off the top portion of it.

Sophomore marine biology major Patrick McGovern said he was surprised by how damaging oceanic acidification is to the ocean and its creatures.

“I had no idea how serious of an issue this is,” McGovern said. “It’s bad enough to have people polluting the ocean with trash, but it’s hard to fathom how detrimental carbon dioxide is to the ocean and its marine life.”

Lee Sullivan, The Good 5 c Cigar, Student Newspaper at he University of Rhode Island, 9 February 2011. Article.

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