Increased carbon dioxide levels damage coral reefs (audio)

Scientists have been worried about coral reefs for years, since realizing that rising temperatures and rising ocean acidity are hard on organisms that build their skeletons from calcium carbonate. Researchers on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are conducting an experiment that demonstrates just how much corals could suffer in the coming decades.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As we burn fossil fuels – we’re talking about oil, gas and coal – carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere. Now, there are debates about how quickly that is changing the global climate, but there is no question that billions of tons of carbon dioxide have soaked into the ocean. That’s making waters more acidic, which puts some ocean ecosystems at risk, particularly coral reefs. We sent NPR science correspondent Richard Harris to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to look into these consequences. His first stop was a research station on Heron Island.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Heron Island is surrounded by a reef that is home to sea turtles, sharks, rays, brilliantly colored fish, and hundreds of other species. The spectacular scenery draws snorkelers from around the world. The island also hosts one of the world’s major coral reef labs, run by the University of Queensland, and research there shows that the reefs are in trouble. Scientist Sophie Dove plunges her arms into a tank the size of a kettle drum.

SOPHIE DOVE: OK. We’ll start with the plates. Uh-huh.

HARRIS: She and research assistant Annamieke van den Heuvel are weighing chunks of coral.

Richard Harris, npr, 17 April 2013. Audio and full transcript.


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