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Oceanic acidity a growing worry for scientists

Scientists at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research are becoming increasingly aware of a new threat posed against the world's coral reefs: the increasing acidity of the ocean.<br><br>With carbon dioxide levels in that atmosphere and in the oceans higher than they have been for 30 million years, the ocean's pH levels have become minutely more acidic, as research done for the last 20 years at the BBSR has shown.

Scientists at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research are becoming increasingly aware of a new threat posed against the world's coral reefs: the increasing acidity of the ocean.With carbon dioxide levels in that atmosphere and in the oceans higher than they have been for 30 million years, the ocean's pH levels have become minutely more acidic, as research done for the last 20 years at the BBSR has shown.What the effect will be on coral reefs is currently hypothesis at best. “We're going into uncharted territory,” the BBSR's Dr. Nick Bates said yesterday.“Most of the organisms in the world today evolved during the last 30 million years, or periods of lower carbon dioxide levels. We don't know how the ocean eco-systems are going to react. It's a very, very small change, but it has profound implications.”Dr. Bates spoke on increasing ocean acidity and the dangers to coral reefs in a public lecture at the BBSR's Hanson Hall last night.The current thinking is that calcification of coral reefs by animals will become more difficult. A recent Pew Foundation report theorised that within 50 years, possibly sooner, hard corals will become unable to calcify.The results could be disastrous: tremendous resources could be lost if the world's most diverse eco-systems change, including billions of dollars in eco-tourism and potential pharmaceuticals.Countries like Bermuda, whose shoreline often depend on the protection of coral reefs which break up waves further out to sea, could also be severely affected.“We are pretty concerned,” Dr. Bates, who has been researching ocean acidity, said yesterday. “We don't know what will happen - but the scenario right now is not good for coral reefs.”However, he added, not all corals may react the same. Corals may have genetic abilities to adapt, and scientific evidence has already shown that different corals calcify at different rates under varying seasonal factors.With coral reefs under pressure already from factors such as pollution and global warming, Dr. Bates said much more research is needed - and therein lies the difficulty.Scientists all over the world are pooling information, however with funding for scientific research in the US stable currently, competition for grants is heating up.For more information visit BBSR on the web at http://www.bbsr.edu and click on “Coral/Climate Lecture”.An article by Dr. Bates on the topic can also be found in the online version of the UK newspaper the Guardian at http://www.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,12374,1405738,00.html

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Published February 04, 2011 at 9:41 am (Updated February 04, 2011 at 9:41 am)

Oceanic acidity a growing worry for scientists

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