Animals are already dissolving in Southern Ocean acid

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In a small patch of the Southern Ocean, the shells of sea snails are dissolving. The finding is the first evidence that marine life is already suffering as a result of man-made ocean acidification.


In a small patch of the Southern Ocean, the shells of sea snails are dissolving. The finding is the first evidence that marine life is already suffering as a result of man-made ocean acidification.

“This is actually happening now,” says Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK. He and colleagues captured free-swimming sea snails called pteropods from the Southern Ocean in early 2008 and found under an electron microscope that the outer layers of their hard shells bore signs of unusual corrosion.

As well as warming the planet, the carbon dioxide we emit is changing the chemistry of the ocean. CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, making the water less alkaline. The pH is currently dropping at about 0.1 per century,faster than any time in the last 300 million years.

Lab experiments have shown that organisms with hard shells, such as corals and molluscs, will suffer as a result. To build their shells, corals and molluscs need to take up calcium carbonate from the water, but more carbonic acid means more hydrogen ions in the water. These react with carbonate ions,making them unavailable to form calcium carbonate.

 

Written By: Michael Marshall
continue to source article at newscientist.com

14 COMMENTS

  1. If I read another story correctly, it’s the speed of change that’s the problem; it’s happening faster than the ability to adapt to it. Isn’t that the reason why many species have gone extinct; the inability to adapt quickly enough to change?

  2. Yes… Adapt or die. It is survival of the fittest.  The issue here is exactly what cornbread and PY say: the change is outpacing the rate of adaptation of the affected organisms.  It is important to remember that mutation drives evolution and mutation is random.  This change in environment will, undoubtedly, cause changes in organisms.  However, along the way we will see catastrophe for many species.  The thing is, in this case, we are the agents of this change.

    A second wave of this is that these pteropods could be a keystone species and their demise could trigger a collapse of the entire ecosystem in the Southern Ocean.  And, again, it is our fault.

  3. I would have expected for a gene to be made dominant it would have to exist prior to the pressure that brought about its expression. We don’t evolve because we need to, we evolve because we already can. They either already have the evolutionary software or they don’t. Acidic water won’t make it happen, it will just reveal if it has happened already.

    Of course, the robustness of the shell would increase with time if pressured. I guess if the pressure is too much, too soon, no chance to catch up.

  4.  @rdfrs-1bf4b10b058cd14143bf1c9caeb5fe83:disqus  ..and of course a calcium carbonate shell will dissolve in acid whatever the genetic make-up of the snail.

    I posted this article on an earlier discussion, but it is worth another look, showing a similar problem in the Mediterranean  – http://ngm.nationalgeographic….

    A comparison of the second and third pictures in the photogallery is very telling! –

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic…. -

    Picture 2, has the normal sea-floor life:

    At Castello Aragonese, a volcanic island off Naples, Italy, healthy seafloor looks like this: a lumpy quilt of red sponges, white barnacles, lilac coralline algae, sea urchins, and (near the center of the photograph) one well-camouflaged fish. It’s a tompot blenny.

    Picture 3, with volcanic CO2 dissolved in the water is a picture of desolation!

    A few hundred yards from the preceding scene, CO₂ bubbling from seafloor vents acidifies the water to levels that might one day prevail all over the oceans. Dull mats of algae replace the colorful diversity—”fair warning,” says biologist Jason Hall-Spencer.

  5. Alan4,
    Bleak.  Stark pictures.  I just do not know ho you look at this and walk away with a clear head.  How on earth does this not bother a person??? Thanks for the links…. very telling.

  6. Alan4 and Neodarwinian,
    I just used your link (the pictures) and Neodarwinian’s chemical equation to introduce my Chemistry class to a topic where Chemistry and Biology truly intersect.  Since I am a Biology teacher who is also teaching Chemistry I sometimes (selfishly) delve into some quick Bio as an intro to a topic.  We are talking about % composition and molar mass in the chemistry class, and we will be talking about equilibrium shortly, so these topics are perfect for the perilous situation in the world’s oceans. 

  7. I think that too many people look at stories like this and think, “it’s just a snail.”  They won’t really be alarmed until it directly impacts their own survival – say, when their skin is blistering under an unmerciful sun and crops are withering, their town or city has run out of water or is swamped by rising sea levels, and food is no longer abundant or cheap at the grocery store.  Then they’ll be the ones screaming, “why didn’t anyone see this coming?  Why weren’t we warned??”

  8. Anyone else notice the lack of climate change deniers on this tread?  They still haven’t linked ocean acidification with too much CO2 in the atmosphere.  Probably because its too easy to actually test.

  9.   Reckless Monkey

    They still haven’t linked ocean acidification with too much CO2 in the atmosphere.  Probably because its too easy to actually test.

    It also counters the silly suggestion that – “We can just spray seawater into the atmosphere, deny sea-level rises, and all will be well”!

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