Today's surface ocean is saturated with respect to calcium carbonate, but increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are reducing ocean pH and carbonate ion concentrations, and thus the level of calcium carbonate saturation. Experimental evidence suggests that if these trends continue, key marine organisms—such as corals and some plankton—will have difficulty maintaining their external calcium carbonate skeletons. Here we use 13 models of the ocean–carbon cycle to assess calcium carbonate saturation under the IS92a 'business-as-usual' scenario for future emissions of anthropogenic carbon dioxide. In our projections, Southern Ocean surface waters will begin to become undersaturated with respect to aragonite, a metastable form of calcium carbonate, by the year 2050. By 2100, this undersaturation could extend throughout the entire Southern Ocean and into the subarctic Pacific Ocean. When live pteropods were exposed to our predicted level of undersaturation during a two-day shipboard experiment, their aragonite shells showed notable dissolution. Our findings indicate that conditions detrimental to high-latitude ecosystems could develop within decades, not centuries as suggested previously.
Ocean acidification is rapidly changing the carbonate system of the world oceans. Past mass extinction events have been linked to ocean acidification, and the current rate of change in seawater chemistry is unprecedented. Evidence suggests that these changes will have significant consequences for marine taxa, particularly those that build skeletons, shells, and tests of biogenic calcium carbonate. Potential changes in species distributions and abundances could propagate through multiple trophic levels of marine food webs, though research into the long-term ecosystem impacts of ocean acidification is in its infancy. This review attempts to provide a general synthesis of known and/or hypothesized biological and ecosystem responses to increasing ocean acidification. Marine taxa covered in this review include tropical reef-building corals, cold-water corals, crustose coralline algae, Halimeda, benthic mollusks, echinoderms, coccolithophores, foraminifera, pteropods, seagrasses, jellyfishes, and fishes. The risk of irreversible ecosystem changes due to ocean acidification should enlighten the ongoing CO2 emissions debate and make it clear that the human dependence on fossil fuels must end quickly. Political will and significant large-scale investment in clean-energy technologies are essential if we are to avoid the most damaging effects of human-induced climate change, including ocean acidification.
Oceanic uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) is altering the seawater chemistry of the world’s oceans with consequences for marine biota. Elevated partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) is causing the calcium carbonate saturation horizon to shoal in many regions, particularly in high latitudes and regions that intersect with pronounced hypoxic zones. The ability of marine animals, most importantly pteropod molluscs, foraminifera, and some benthic invertebrates, to produce calcareous skeletal structures is directly affected by seawater CO2 chemistry. CO2influences the physiology of marine organisms as well through acid-base imbalance and reduced oxygen transport capacity. The few studies at relevant pCO2 levels impede our ability to predict future impacts on foodweb dynamics and other ecosystem processes. Here we present new observations, review available data, and identify priorities for future research, based on regions, ecosystems, taxa, and physiological processes believed to be most vulnerable to ocean acidification. We conclude that ocean acidification and the synergistic impacts of other anthropogenic stressors provide great potential for widespread changes to marine ecosystems.
Free-air CO(2) enrichment (FACE) experiments allow study of the effects of elevated [CO(2)] on plants and ecosystems grown under natural conditions without enclosure. Data from 120 primary, peer-reviewed articles describing physiology and production in the 12 large-scale FACE experiments (475-600 ppm) were collected and summarized using meta-analytic techniques. The results confirm some results from previous chamber experiments: light-saturated carbon uptake, diurnal C assimilation, growth and above-ground production increased, while specific leaf area and stomatal conductance decreased in elevated [CO(2)]. There were differences in FACE. Trees were more responsive than herbaceous species to elevated [CO(2)]. Grain crop yields increased far less than anticipated from prior enclosure studies. The broad direction of change in photosynthesis and production in elevated [CO(2)] may be similar in FACE and enclosure studies, but there are major quantitative differences: trees were more responsive than other functional types; C(4) species showed little response; and the reduction in plant nitrogen was small and largely accounted for by decreased Rubisco. The results from this review may provide the most plausible estimates of how plants in their native environments and field-grown crops will respond to rising atmospheric [CO(2)]; but even with FACE there are limitations, which are also discussed.