Rotten algae dump acid in ocean

Something’s rotten in the ocean. And as it rots, the ocean acidifies making life tough for shellfish, coral, and other creatures.

Carbon dioxide released from decaying algal blooms combines with the ever increasing concentration absorbed from the atmosphere to give marine communities a double dose of ocean acidification, according to a new study published in Environmental Science and Technology. Areas, like the mouth of the Mississippi River, where nutrient rich water feeds gigantic masses of algae may experience up to 12 times the amount of acidification that they would from atmospheric carbon dioxide alone. The strength of the effect of rotting algae is more intense in areas with low salinity and temperature.

“These interactions have important biological implications in a warming world with increasing atmospheric CO2,” said William Sunda of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a press release. “The combined effects of the two acidification processes, along with increased nutrient loading of nearshore waters, are reducing the time available to coastal managers to adopt approaches to avoid or minimize harmful impacts to critical ecosystem services such as fisheries and tourism.”

Ocean acidification results from carbon dioxide dissolving into seawater and forming carbonic acid. Increased acidity can dissolve away the calcium carbonate skeleton of coral reefs and make it more difficult for oysters and clams to form shells.

Oysters contribute $84 million to $111 million to the economy of the West Coast of the United States, according to NOAA. A previous NOAA study found that ocean acidification is already affecting the shellfish and endangering the 3,000 jobs that depend on the oyster harvest.

Tim Wall, Discovery News, 26 September 2012. Article.

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