Science

Coral reefs need lowered carbon-dioxide emissions to survive

By Enozia Vakil , Jun 29, 2013 07:47 PM EDT
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Marine life is being seriously affected by not just water pollution, but air pollution too. A new study has linked the decrease in coral reef numbers to increased carbon-dioxide emissions.

Coral reefs, being one of the most important sources of marine biodiversity, are important to be protected.

Being sensitive to minor changes in the environment, coral reefs now face a threat from increased human activities and ecosystem disturbances including warming waters, overfishing, overdevelopment, coastal pollutions and even greenhouse emissions.

The researchers Katharine Ricke and Ken Caldeira, along with some of their colleagues, focused on the destructive effects of acidification of water around the reefs, and how it affects the reef's ability to survive.

They noticed that when carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere gets absorbed into the ocean, it forms carbonic acid (the soda fizz), which makes the ocean more acidic, and decreases its pH.

This rise in acidity of the ocean waters hampers the ability of marine organisms to grow their shells, thereby threatening the coral reef population worldwide.

Using sophisticated models of evaluating the data, and calculating the chemical conditions occurring in oceans during different scenarios, the researchers finally revealed the results.

"Our results show that if we continue on our current emissions path, by the end of the century there will be no water left in the ocean with the chemical properties that have supported coral reef growth in the past. We can't say with 100% certainty that all shallow-water coral reefs will die, but it is a pretty good bet," Rickie explained.

Carbon-dioxide emissions need to be controlled to a good extent to ensure the survival of coral reefs, and many other marine organisms, the researchers claim. "To save coral reefs, we need to transform our energy system into one that does not use the atmosphere and oceans as waste dumps for carbon dioxide pollution. The decisions we make in the next years and decades are likely to determine whether or not coral reefs survive the rest of this century," Caldeira added.

The findings from this study are expected to be pubished on July 3 in Environmental Research Letters.

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