Quantifying the effect of anthropogenic climate change on calcifying plankton

Widely regarded as an imminent threat to our oceans, ocean acidification has been documented in all oceanic basins. Projected changes in seawater chemistry will have catastrophic biotic effects due to ocean acidification hindering biogenic carbonate production, which will in turn lead to substantial changes in marine ecosystems. However, previous attempts to quantify the effect of acidification on planktonic calcifying organisms has relied on laboratory based studies with substantial methodological limitations. This has been overcome by comparing historic plankton tows from the seminal HMS Challenger Expedition (1872–1876) with the recent Tara Oceans expedition material (2009–2016). Nano CT-scans of selected equatorial Pacific Ocean planktonic foraminifera, have revealed that all modern specimens had up to 76% thinner shells than their historic counterparts. The “Challenger Revisited” project highlights the potential of historic ocean collections as a tool to investigate ocean acidification since the early Industrial Revolution. Further analyses of such biotic archives will enable researchers to quantify the effects of anthropogenic climate change across the globe.

Fox L., Stukins S., Hill T. & Miller C. G., 2020. Quantifying the effect of anthropogenic climate change on calcifying plankton. Scientific Reports 10: 1620. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-58501-w. Article.

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