Climate change threatens human health in many ways, through heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in disease vectors, as well as economic and social stresses on populations living in or trying to escape areas affected by seawater intrusion, drought, lower agricultural productivity, and floods.1 In the short term, most of these impacts could be substantially ameliorated by actions to reduce background disease risks and other known causes of vulnerability. The world beyond 2050 poses increasingly difficult challenges, not only because of the inherent uncertainties in long-term predictions, but because the extent and speed of change might exceed society's ability to adapt.
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.
Ocean acidification is a series of chemical reactions due to increased CO2 emissions. The resulting lower pH impairs the senses of reef fishes and reduces their survival, and might similarly impact commercially targeted fishes that produce most of the seafood eaten by humans. Shelled molluscs will also be negatively affected, whereas cephalopods and crustaceans will remain largely unscathed. Habitat changes will reduce seafood production from coral reefs, but increase production from seagrass and seaweed. Overall effects of ocean acidification on primary productivity and, hence, on food webs will result in hard-to-predict winners and losers. Although adaptation, parental effects, and evolution can mitigate some effects of ocean acidification, future seafood platters will look rather different unless CO2 emissions are curbed.
The interannual variation in malaria cases in Colombia between 1960 and 1992 shows a close association with a periodic climatic phenomenon known as El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Compared with other years, malaria cases increased by 17.3% during a Nino year and by 35.1% in the post-Nino year. The annual total number of malaria cases is also strongly correlated (r = 0.62, P < 0.001) with sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the eastern equatorial Pacific, a principal parameter of ENSO. The strong relation between malaria and ENSO in Colombia can be used to predict high and low-risk years for malaria with sufficient time to mobilize resources to reduce the impact of epidemics. In view of the current El Nino conditions, we anticipate an increase in malaria cases in Colombia in 1998. Further studies to elucidate the mechanisms which underlie the association are required. As Colombia has a wide range of climatic conditions, regional studies relating climate and vector ecology to malaria incidence may further improve an ENSO-based early warning system. Predicting malaria risk associated with ENSO and related climate variables may also serve as a short-term analogue for predicting longer-term effects posed by global climate change.