Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Oceans May Soon Be More Corrosive Than When The Dinosaurs Died

Date:
February 21, 2006
Source:
Carnegie Institution
Summary:
Increased carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly acidifying the world's oceans and, if unabated, could cause a mass extinction of marine life similar to one that occurred when the dinosaurs disappeared. By comparing computer model predictions of changes in ocean chemistry with evidence from the fossil record, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology found a glimpse of the possible future for ocean life if society does not drastically curb carbon dioxide emissions.

Increased carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly making the world's oceans more acidic and, if unabated, could cause a mass extinction of marine life similar to one that occurred 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology will present this research at the AGU/ASLO Ocean Sciences meeting in Honolulu, HI on Monday, Feb 20.

Caldeira's computer models have predicted that the oceans will become far more acidic within the next century. Now, he has compared this data with ocean chemistry evidence from the fossil record, and has found some startling similarities. The new finding offers a glimpse of what the future might hold for ocean life if society does not drastically curb carbon dioxide emissions.

"The geologic record tells us the chemical effects of ocean acidification would last tens of thousands of years," Caldeira said. "But biological recovery could take millions of years. Ocean acidification has the potential to cause extinction of many marine species."

When carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil, and gas dissolves in the ocean, some of it becomes carbonic acid. Over time, accumulation of this carbonic acid makes ocean water more acidic. When carbonic acid input is modest, sediments from the ocean floor can buffer the increases in acidity. But at the current rate of input--nearly 50 times the natural background from volcanoes and other sources--this buffering mechanism is overwhelmed. Previous estimates suggest that in less than 100 years, the pH of the oceans could drop by as much as half a unit from its natural value of 8.2 to about 7.7. (On the pH scale, lower numbers are more acidic and higher numbers are more basic.)

This drop in ocean pH would be especially damaging to marine animals such as corals that use calcium carbonate to make their shells. Under normal conditions the ocean is supersaturated with this mineral, making it easy for such creatures to grow. However, a more acidic ocean would more easily dissolve calcium carbonate, putting these species at particular risk.

The last time the oceans endured such a drastic change in chemistry was 65 million years ago, at about the same time the dinosaurs went extinct. Though researchers do not yet know exactly what caused this ancient acidification, it was directly related to the cataclysm that wiped out the giant beasts. The pattern of extinction in the ocean is consistent with ocean acidification--the fossil record reveals a precipitous drop in the number of species with calcium carbonate shells that live in the upper ocean--especially corals and plankton. During the same period, species with shells made from resistant silicate minerals were more likely to survive.

The world's oceans came close to an acidic catastrophe one other time about 55 million years ago, when the temperature of the Earth spiked and large amounts of methane and/or carbon dioxide flooded the atmosphere. There is no evidence, however, that this caused a mass extinction event.

"Ultimately, if we are not careful, our energy system could make the oceans corrosive to coral reefs and many other marine organisms," Caldeira cautions. "These results should help motivate the search for new energy sources, such as wind and solar, that can fuel economic growth without releasing dangerous carbon dioxide into the environment."

###


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Carnegie Institution. "Oceans May Soon Be More Corrosive Than When The Dinosaurs Died." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060220232335.htm>.
Carnegie Institution. (2006, February 21). Oceans May Soon Be More Corrosive Than When The Dinosaurs Died. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060220232335.htm
Carnegie Institution. "Oceans May Soon Be More Corrosive Than When The Dinosaurs Died." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060220232335.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins