Ocean acidification could kill off marine life in the next few decades

A new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes that marine animals dealing with warming waters and ocean acidification may have a “limited scope” for adaptation and survival. The study says that very few species will likely escape the increasingly negative impact of rising carbon dioxide levels dissolving into the ocean.

The oceans of our planet are home to one third of all the carbon dioxide emitted when we burn fossil fuels. And since the beginning of industrial times, the ocean temperature has increased 1 degree C. More importantly, the ocean water has become 30 percent more acidic.

And this acidification makes it increasingly more difficult for organisms like corals and shellfish to survive. Thus, the research says that plankton populations will increase, but this shift in the food chain will not affect higher organisms.

Adelaide University associate professor Ivan Nagelkerken explains, “There is more food for small herbivores, such as fish, sea snails and shrimps, but because the warming has driven up metabolism rates the growth rate of these animals is decreasing. As there is less prey available, that means fewer opportunities for carnivores. There’s a cascading effect up the food chain.”

He continues, “Overall, we found there’s a decrease in species diversity and abundance irrespective of what ecosystem we are looking at. These are broad scale impacts, made worse when you combine the effect of warming with acidification.”

Finally, Nagelkerken notes, “These effects are happening now and will only be exacerbated in the next 50 to 100 years. We are already seeing strange things such as the invasion of tropical species into temperate waters off south-eastern Australia. But if we reduce additional stressors such as overfishing and pollution, we can give species a better chance to adapt to climate change.”

Deborah Grace, Pioneer News, 14 October 2015. Article.

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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