New Experiment Shows The Damage To Coral Reefs

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Human induced climate changes are taking its tolls on the planet. It is particularly seen in damage to coral reefs around the world. Furthermore, it is believed that by the end of the century, coral reefs will struggle beyond measure due to ocean acidification.

The emissions of carbon dioxide are continuing unchecked, says a new research paper conducted on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The research was led by Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira together with the California Academy of Sciences’ Rebecca Albright. It was published in the journal Nature and looks into an ocean acidification experiment. The researchers acidified the ocean artificially by the addition of carbon dioxide, to see what would happen with the coral reef and marine life that resides there.

They increased the amount of acid in the water to show the scenario that could be possible by the end of the century and the damage to coral reefs. Caldeira and Albright published a landmark study two years ago. That study was supposed to show that ocean acidification was already taking its toll on coral reef growth.

In the study they conducted, they made seawater in the coral reef more alkaline, by giving the reef an antacid. The coral’s construction was improved in the seawater that was more alkaline than acidic. In fact, it was the first time that seawater chemistry was manipulated experimentally, at least in a natural environment.

“Last time, we made the seawater less acidic, like it was 100 years ago, and this time, we added carbon dioxide to the water to make it more acidic, like it could be 100 years from now,” Caldeira explained in a statement.

After coal, oil or gas burns, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Those emissions are considered the main reason behind the climate change and global warming that affects global oceans and causes damage to coral reefs. Moreover, atmospheric carbon is absorbed by the ocean where it can stay for millennia. The reaction between carbon and seawater results in carbonic acid that poses danger to coral reefs, shellfish, and other marine animals.

“Our findings provide strong evidence that ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide emissions will severely slow coral reef growth in the future unless we make steep and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” said first author Albright.

Caldeira, Albright and their team managed to show how acidic oceans impact coral reefs on the ecosystem scale, instead of focusing only on individual organisms, which is what other papers have shown.

To understand the complexity of the whole acidification impact on the ocean, they needed to take such an approach, they said in a statement. They wanted to show how those changes affect coastal communities that are dependent on those ecosystems.

“Coral reefs offer economic opportunities to their surrounding communities from fishing and tourism,” Caldeira said. “But for me the reef is a beautiful and diverse outpouring of life that we are harming with our carbon dioxide emissions. For the denizens of the reef, there’s not a moment to lose in building an energy system that doesn’t dump its waste into the sky or sea.”

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