Predicting the impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs: evaluating the assumptions involved

Predictions of future impact of climate change on coral reefs indicate that bleaching mortality due to higher temperature will be the major factor in the decline of coral reefs. Ocean acidification (OA) is increasingly considered to be an important contributing factor, but estimates of its importance vary widely in the literature. Models of future reef decline due to OA generally involve four simplifying assumptions that can lead to contradictions. The assumptions are: (i) Oceanic conditions of Ωarag control or are at least highly correlated with net calcification rate (Gnet) on coral reefs. (ii) Calcification rate is driven by bulk water carbonate ion concentration [CO32−] expressed as Ωarag. (iii) Changes in coral calcification rate can be used to estimate future changes in coral reef calcification rate. (iv) The impact of OA is additive and not synergistic with other environmental factors such as increased temperature. The assumption that aragonite saturation state (Ωarag) of seawater drives calcification is the most widely used and needs to be further evaluated. An alternate hypothesis is that calcification is limited by the ability of the system to rid itself of the protons generated by calcification. Recent studies allow further testing of the assumptions and point the way to resolving shortcomings in our understanding of how OA impacts coral reefs.

Jokiel P. L., in press. Predicting the impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs: evaluating the assumptions involved. ICES Journal of Marine Science. Article. 

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