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Ocean Acidification Threatens Food Webs, 150 Scientists Warn

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NASA

We hear a lot about how carbon dioxide emissions are warming the atmosphere and changing climate in ways that are damaging, if not catastrophic, for life on Earth.

Increasingly we are also learning about the impact of carbon dioxide on the oceans. As the sea absorbs carbon from the air its chemistry is changing, becoming more acidic. This also is likely to have a profound impact on life, experts warn.

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More than 150 marine scientists from 26 countries called for immediate action by policymakers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions sharply so as to avoid widespread and severe damage to marine ecosystems from ocean acidification. They sounded the alarm in the Monaco Declaration, released Friday, according to a news release by Unesco.

Ocean acidification could affect marine food webs and lead to substantial changes in commercial fish stocks, threatening protein supply and food security for millions of people as well as the multi-billion dollar fishing industry, the Monaco Declaration says.

“Coral reefs provide fish habitat, generate billions of dollars annually in tourism, protect shorelines from erosion and flooding, and provide the foundation for tremendous biodiversity, equivalent to that found in tropical rain forests,” the Declaration says.

“Yet by mid-century, ocean acidification may render most regions chemically inhospitable to coral reefs. These and other acidification related changes could affect a wealth of marine goods and services, such as our ability to use the ocean to manage waste, to provide chemicals to make new medicines, and to benefit from its natural capacity to regulate climate.

“For instance, ocean acidification will reduce the ocean’s capacity to absorb anthropogenic CO2, which will exacerbate climate change.”

To avoid severe and widespread damages, all of which are ultimately driven by increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists called for policymakers to act quickly to incorporate these concerns into plans to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at a safe level to avoid not only dangerous climate change but also dangerous ocean acidification.

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Prince Albert II of Monaco urged political leaders to heed the Monaco Declaration as they prepare for climate negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this year. “I strongly support this declaration, which is in full accord with my efforts and those of my Foundation to alleviate climate change,” he said in a news release about the declaration.

“The chemistry is so fundamental and changes so rapid and severe that impacts on organisms appear unavoidable,” said James Orr of the Marine Environment Laboratories (MEL-IAEA) and chairman of the symposium, in the same news release.

“The questions are now how bad will it be and how soon will it happen. The report from the symposium summarizes the state of the science and priorities for future research, while the Monaco Declaration implores political leaders to launch urgent actions to limit the source of the problem.”

“In order to advance the science of ocean acidification, we need to bring together the best scientists to share their latest research results and to set priorities for research to improve our knowledge of the processes and of the impacts of acidification on marine ecosystems,” said Patricio Bernal, executive secretary of Unesco IOC.

The Monaco Declaration is based on the Research Priorities Report developed by participants at last October’s 2nd international symposium on The Ocean in a High-CO2 World, organized by Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP), with the support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and several other partners.

Additional Information:

The Ocean Acidification Network

News Stories and Blogs About The Monaco Declaration:

Dropping acid (Grist)

Acid oceans ‘need urgent action’ (BBC News)

Marine Experts Implore Governments to Slash Carbon Emissions (ENS)

Related National Geographic News Stories:

Oceans Becoming Acidic Ten Times Faster Than Thought

Growing Ocean Acidity May Erode Coastal Ecosystems

 Acid Oceans Threatening Marine Food Chain, Experts Warn

NatGeo News Watch Entries About Oceans:

Ocean Dead Zones Predicted to Expand, “Remain for Thousands of Years”

Why National Geographic Is Watching Its Seafood Diet

Mass Extinctions Loom in Ocean Habitats, Scientist Warns 

Comments

  1. jgogek
    February 3, 2009, 7:00 pm

    Ocean chemistry is changing 100 times more rapidly than in the 650,000 years that preceded the modern industrial era, according to researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Scripps scientists have recorded an overall drop in the pH of the oceans from 8.16 to 8.05.
    http://greenestuniversity.blogspot.com