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Climate change causing irreversible acidification in world’s oceans

A new study from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity has synthesized over 300 reports on ocean acidification caused by climate change. The report finds that increasing acidification will lead to irreversible damage in the world’s oceans, creating a less biodiverse marine environment. Released today the report determines that the threat to marine life by ocean acidification must be considered by policymakers at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.



The world’s oceans naturally store carbon, however due to increasing carbon emissions from mankind the ocean has been sequestering carbon at a higher rate than usual has actually changed the chemistry of the ocean, making it more acidic.



“Ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years, and substantial damage to ocean ecosystems can only be avoided by urgent and rapid reductions in global emissions of CO,” explains Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention in a press release. “Attention must be given for integration of this critical issue at the global climate change debate in Copenhagen.”



Among the most alarming conclusions is that by 2050 ocean acidity may increase up to 150 percent, an increase that would be 100 times faster than any change in acidity that the ocean has undergone over the past 20 million years. This rapid increase will give vulnerable species little time to adapt to changing chemical conditions in the sea.



Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Coral reefs are especially sensitive to acidification which weakens their skeletal structure. According to the report by 2100, 70 percent of cold water corals will be exposed to high acidification levels. Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse habitats for species in the oceans.



Species that produce shells and plates out of calcium carbonate are also at risk. Carbonate ion concentrations are currently at their lowest rate in nearly a million years. The report finds that by 2032, the Arctic Ocean will lack the necessary carbonate minerals for these species, which includes mussels, oysters, shrimps, crabs, lobsters, foraminifera, pteropods, and coccolithophores. The Southern Ocean will experience similar changes by 2050.



Some species are likely to benefit from the increasing acidification of the oceans, however in all the oceans are likely to be less biodiverse and to lose many the species dependent on calcium carbonate.



“Far too many policy-makers at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen seem unaware that biological diversity not only underpins and is at the heart of global sustainable development, it is also being threatened gravely by climate change. Understanding the role of biodiversity in attaining our common goal of sustainability is therefore not only critical, but urgent,” preeminent biologist Thomas Lovejoy writes in the report’s introduction.



Scientific Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biological Diversity [PDF]








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