Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Coral Reefs May Start Dissolving When Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Doubles

Date:
March 10, 2009
Source:
Carnegie Institution
Summary:
Rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the resulting effects on ocean water are making it increasingly difficult for coral reefs to grow, say scientists. A new study warns that if carbon dioxide reaches double pre-industrial levels, coral reefs can be expected to not just stop growing, but also to begin dissolving all over the world.

Coral reef. If carbon dioxide reaches double pre-industrial levels, coral reefs can be expected to not just stop growing, but also to begin dissolving all over the world.
Credit: iStockphoto/Edwin Van Wier

Rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the resulting effects on ocean water are making it increasingly difficult for coral reefs to grow, say scientists. A study to be published online March 13, 2009 in Geophysical Research Letters by researchers at the Carnegie Institution and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem warns that if carbon dioxide reaches double pre-industrial levels, coral reefs can be expected to not just stop growing, but also to begin dissolving all over the world.

The impact on reefs is a consequence of both ocean acidification caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide into seawater and rising water temperatures. Previous studies have shown that rising carbon dioxide will slow coral growth, but this is the first study to show that coral reefs can be expected to start dissolving just about everywhere in just a few decades, unless carbon dioxide emissions are cut deeply and soon.

"Globally, each second, we dump over 1000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and, each second, about 300 tons of that carbon dioxide is going into the oceans," said co-author Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, testifying to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife of the Committee on Natural Resources on February 25, 2009. "We can say with a high degree of certainty that all of this CO2 will make the oceans more acidic – that is simple chemistry taught to freshman college students."

The study was designed determine the impact of this acidification on coral reefs. The research team, consisting of Jacob Silverman, Caldeira, and Long Cao of the Carnegie Institution as well as Boaz Lazar and Jonathan Erez from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, used field data from coral reefs to determine the effects of temperature and water chemistry on coral calcification rates. Armed with this information, they plugged the data into a computer model that calculated global seawater temperature and chemistry at different atmospheric levels of CO2 ranging from the pre-industrial value of 280 ppm (parts per million) to 750 ppm. The current atmospheric concentration is over 380 ppm, and is rapidly rising due to human-caused emissions, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels.

Based on the model results for more than 9,000 reef locations, the researchers determined that at the highest concentration studied, 750 ppm, acidification of seawater would reduce calcification rates of three quarters of the world's reefs to less than 20% of pre-industrial rates. Field studies suggest that at such low rates, coral growth would not be able to keep up with dissolution and other natural as well as manmade destructive processes attacking reefs.

Prospects for reefs are even gloomier when the effects of coral bleaching are included in the model. Coral bleaching refers to the loss of symbiotic algae that are essential for healthy growth of coral colonies. Bleaching is already a widespread problem, and high temperatures are among the factors known to promote bleaching. According to their model the researchers calculated that under present conditions 30% of reefs have already undergone bleaching and that at CO2 levels of 560 ppm (twice pre-industrial levels) the combined effects of acidification and bleaching will reduce the calcification rates of all the world's reefs by 80% or more. This lowered calcification rate will render all reefs vulnerable to dissolution, without even considering other threats to reefs, such as pollution.

"Our fossil-fueled lifestyle is killing off coral reefs," says Caldeira. "If we don't change our ways soon, in the next few decades we will destroy what took millions of years to create."

"Coral reefs may be the canary in the coal mine," he adds. "Other major pieces of our planet may be similarly threatened because we are using the atmosphere and oceans as dumps for our CO2 pollution. We can save the reefs if we decide to treat our planet with the care it deserves. We need to power our economy with technologies that do not dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or oceans."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Silverman, J., B. Lazar, L. Cao, K. Caldeira, and J. Erez. Coral reefs may start dissolving when atmospheric CO2 doubles. Geophys. Res. Lett., 2009; DOI: 10.1029/2008GL036282

Cite This Page:

Carnegie Institution. "Coral Reefs May Start Dissolving When Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Doubles." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 March 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090309162125.htm>.
Carnegie Institution. (2009, March 10). Coral Reefs May Start Dissolving When Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Doubles. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090309162125.htm
Carnegie Institution. "Coral Reefs May Start Dissolving When Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Doubles." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090309162125.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Buzz60 (Oct. 20, 2014) An entomologist stumbled upon a South American Goliath Birdeater. With a name like that, you know it's a terrifying creepy crawler. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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