Acidic oceans result of carbon emissions

Feb 24, 2016, 3:58 PM EST
Source: USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr
Source: USFWS - Pacific Region/flickr

A new study has found that carbon emissions have contributed to the rising acid levels in the world's oceans, which then in turn has had a damaging effect on coral reefs. The reefs are dying because of ocean acidification. Scientists say that cuts in carbon dioxide emissions are the only way to stem the problem. Reuters reports:

In a U.S.-led study, scientists mixed chemicals into a lagoon, cut off from the sea at low tide, at Australia's One Tree Island to locally reverse the global trend of acidification that makes it harder for corals to build their stony skeletons.
They showed that the coral, part of Australia's Great Barrier reef, grew better when bathed in seawater mimicking conditions before the Industrial Revolution, which ushered in widespread burning of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide.
The oceans are becoming more acidic because they absorb carbon dioxide — around one-quarter of what’s released into the atmosphere, according to the study. When carbon dioxide interacts with sea water, the water becomes more acidic. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification conducted in Washington State in 2012 found that oysters and crabs have had thinning shells, a product of acidification. Corals are also built from calcium carbonate, and they grow by laying down bands; scientists have noticed that band growth was declining. That’s because acidic water corrodes the calcium that makes the shells and structures in these creatures. But until now, there wasn’t definitive proof the water’s acidity was causing decalcification.
“Our work provides the first strong evidence from experiments on a natural ecosystem that ocean acidification is already slowing coral reef growth,” said study lead author Rebecca Albright of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Previous studies were completed in laboratories.
Coral reefs have been declining for decades. Without significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the world's coral reefs may be gone by the end of the century, other studies have found.
Since the start of the industrial revolution in the 1800s, the world's oceans have grown nearly 30% more acidic, according to a 2009 Scientific Committee on Oceanic Resources report.