Researchers have suspected for a long time that coral reefs will ultimately be impacted by ocean acidification and now a new study proves that this is already occurring.
A group of researchers from Carnegie Institution of Science have demonstrated that due to our carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification is increasing, causing the growth of coral reefs to slow down.
Approximately 40% of the carbon present in the atmosphere is being swallowed by the oceans and its reaction with the water is forming a harmful acid. This has negative impacts on the entire marine life, but especially on coral reefs.
The scientists experimented with the seawater chemistry from an actual coral reef community in order to observe the impact of our man-made carbon emissions.
Kennedy Wolfe is a researcher at the University of Sydney and one of the scientists involved in this experiment and he explained their process for us.
He says that the team began the manipulation process by collecting 15,000 litres of seawater into a tank resembling a vast, inflatable pool. Afterwards, they pumped the water on the reef and started measuring the discrepancy between pre-industrial conditions and present-day water.
In order to examine the effects caused by ocean acidification, the scientists augmented the water’s pH from One Tree Island by mixing it with sodium hydroxide. Because of that, the water’s pH became closer to the one from the pre-industrial period, when there were lower levels of carbon emissions and acid.
What they discovered was that the coral reef’s growth was 7% higher in alkaline water, as opposed to the one in the acidic water.
According to Rebecca Albright, their study shows strong signs that ocean acidification is already affecting the coral reefs, making their growth much slower than it was 100 years ago.
She highlights the fact that this situation can no longer be considered a future threat, but rather a present one.
Ever since the industrial revolution began back in the 1800s, the oceans’ acidity has increased by almost 30%. If researchers will be able to increase the alkalinity of the oceans that host coral reefs, then the effects of carbon dioxide could actually be reversed.
Nevertheless, even though this experiment was successful, such a measure would be extremely difficult to implement in a natural ecosystem.
According to Ken Caldeira, who is the lead researcher of this study, the only current solution for protecting the coral reefs is to drastically cut our carbon dioxide emission levels.
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