Geological Society: Acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century”

Co-author: “Unless we curb carbon emissions we risk mass extinctions, degrading coastal waters and encouraging outbreaks of toxic jellyfish and algae.”

A unique ‘natural laboratory’ in the Mediterranean Sea is revealing the effects of rising carbon dioxide levels on life in the oceans. The results show a bleak future for marine life as ocean acidity rises, and suggest that similar lowering of ocean pH levels may have been responsible for massive extinctions in the past.

That’s the opening (and headline) of a news release from the Geological Society of London.  The new study is “Modern seawater acidification: the response of foraminifera to high-CO2 conditions in the Mediterranean Sea” (subs. reqd.) in the latest Journal of the Geological Society.

For background on ocean acidification, see Nature Geoscience: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred.

The study identified a tipping point at “mean pH 7.8”:

The scientists, from the University of Plymouth and the University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, studied a single celled organisms called Foraminifera around volcanic carbon dioxide vents off Naples in Italy. The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of the Geological Society, found that increasing CO2 levels caused foram diversity to fall from 24 species to only 4.

‘Previous studies have shown a reduction in diversity of 30%, but this is even bigger for forams’, said Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, one of the study’s co-authors. ‘A tipping point occurs at mean pH 7.8. This is the pH level predicted for the end of this century‘.

The figure below [not from the study] shows the pH trend vs. the CO2 trend around “Station ALOHA, the HOT deep-water station (22 45″²N, 158W) located about 100 km north of Oahu, Hawaii:

Uhh, pH 7.8 — here we come.

I would note that this study, based as it on a natural laboratory, doesn’t even include the behind impact of rising ocean temperatures with rising acidification.  For an analysis of what that could mean, see 2009 Nature Geoscience study concludes ocean dead zones “devoid of fish and seafood” are poised to expand and “remain for thousands of years.”

Back to the news release:

Rising carbon dioxide levels acidify the ocean, which has a particularly devastating effect on organisms that have calcium carbonate shells, like Foraminifera.

‘Forams are well preserved in the fossil record, which is why we chose to study them’, says Dr Hall-Spencer. ‘We knew the results were likely to show a decline in foram diversity but we weren’t expecting such a seismic shift’.

Forams record past events in the geological record – in particular, the effect of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a period of massive carbon release and rapid warming, 55 million years ago, accompanied by extinctions in marine life. It is also thought to have seen a period of ocean acidification.

‘That was a period when massive changes in marine ecology happened’ says Dr Hall-Spencer. ‘Our natural laboratory provides a glimpse into the future of our oceans’.

‘These are the first CO2 vents to be used to study ocean acidification. They allow us to observe how ecosystems react to changes in ocean acidity. We can see for our own eyes what increasing CO2 levels do to marine communities’.

‘At a mean pH level of 7.8, calcified organisms begin to disappear, and non calcifying ones take over. We are headed towards that being the case in this century. The big concern for me is that unless we curb carbon emissions we risk mass extinctions, degrading coastal waters and encouraging outbreaks of toxic jellyfish and algae.’

It is self-destructive for the nation and world not to begin rapid and sharp CO2 reductions.

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29 Responses to Geological Society: Acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century”

  1. James Newberry says:

    Heating waters, lack of oxygen, increasing acidity and factory mining of wild marine animals. We really are a lovely species, aren’t we?

    Soon, when the phytoplankton and forests go, there will be little oxygen for humans to breath in and exhale carbon dioxide out (by the billions of us). We may be grasping for clean energy now, the next generation may be grasping for oxygen.

    Oil is not an energy resource. It is matter.

    Where is my nuclear bailout bucket?

  2. cataclysmic says:

    Tiny Antarctic creatures hint at sea level rise

    “The most likely explanation of such similarity is that this ice sheet is much less stable than previously thought and has collapsed at some point in the recent past,” he told Reuters. West Antarctica holds enough ice to raise world sea levels by between 3.5 and 5 meters (11-16 ft) if the sheet collapsed. The discovery of very similar colonies of bryozoans, animals that anchor themselves to the seabed, in both the Ross and Weddell Seas are a clue that the ice sheet once thawed and the seas were once linked

  3. mike roddy says:

    I like your last sentence, Joe. All people have a self destructive streak, and I’m convinced it is wired into us for other reasons. In this case, though, we obviously have to overcome it.

  4. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    James Newberry,
    When will the phytoplankton go?
    Already happening

  5. paulm says:

    Sorry? I thought all those things were already starting to happen…..

  6. MarkB says:

    OT: Doesn’t take much to start a fire these days.

    Golfer’s swing sparks 25-acre California blaze

  7. Steve Bloom says:

    Correction needed (I think): “behind impact” just under the graph.

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    JR –
    Nova series on the rise of man tonight . New thinking that it was rapid climate change 2 million years ago in East Africa. 1,000 years of dry, 1,000 years of wet etc., etc. that drove evolution .
    At the end of the first installment ( It’s a 3 parter ) , there is the happy message that climate change is good , it made us , ….. well us. No mention that there wasn’t a highly complex industrial civilization resting of a sweet spot of climate. You can see the Koch brothers thinking in the conclusion of the show.

  9. Colorado Bob says:

    Another warning from the oceans –

    The Hot Seas of Our Future
    In a complete reversal of the usual pattern, where water temperatures are generally cooler than land temperatures, for the second year running, the ocean was actually hotter than land in some regions, marking another ominous sign of the strange and unpredictable effects of continued global warming.

  10. fj2 says:

    #8 Colorado Bob,

    Not a single thing about “Kochtopus” on most TV networks CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN.

    Conde Naste publisher of The New Yorker recently announced that its revenue model would be subscriber based and not adverstising based.

  11. Terry Heidelberg says:

    It is mentioned that the graphs in this post are not from the noted study.

    What is the source of the data presented in the two graphs? Is the raw data available for download?


  12. Colorado Bob says:

    FJ2 –
    Nobody wants to lose the Brawny Paper Towel money.

    More news about how sneaky coal fired power plants are –

    Southern Florida has a big problem on its hands — thousands of them, in fact. A burgeoning population of invasive Burmese pythons has been gobbling up native wildlife in and around the Everglades.

    Now evidence is accumulating that the snakes, which can reach more than 20-feet (6 meters) long and weigh upwards of 200 pounds (90 kilograms), are contaminated with strikingly high levels of mercury, and managers are urging python hunters to think twice before eating their quarry.
    Another apex predator eating a diet of aquatic creatures, and building mercury loads in its tissues.

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    This applies here, but don’t let the headline make you not read this –

    Why Some Americans Believe Obama Is a Muslim

    ScienceDaily (Aug. 31, 2010) — There’s something beyond plain old ignorance that motivates Americans to believe President Obama is a Muslim, according to a first-of-its-kind study of smear campaigns led by a Michigan State University psychologist.

  14. Inverse says:

    Solution = Plant trees and population control.
    While the world population grows by millions every year pollutants will only ever go up however hard you try to reduce them.
    Just by running this web site thousands have read it on computers using electricity and generating heat. I think you will find the internet is one of the biggest polluters in the world, although the worst polluter scenario would be to browse this site flying on an airplane…

  15. Colorado Bob says:

    Sydney has experienced its 21st consecutive year of above average winter temperatures, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

    As the city welcomes its first official day of spring tomorrow with expected maximum temperatures of 24 to 25 degrees, bureau climatologist Acacia Pepler said the string of warmer winters was “very unusual”.

  16. Colorado Bob says:

    JUBA, Sudan — Floods in south Sudan have forced more than 50,000 people from their homes, health officials said on Tuesday, warning that the situation could worsen.

    Flood waters began rising earlier this month due to torrential seasonal rains in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state, leaving much of the state capital Aweil under water and affecting thousands in the surrounding countryside.

    “In the last one month, 57,135 people have been displaced by the floods,” said Olivia Lomoro, the ministry’s undersecretary for health.

    Southern health minister Luka Monoja warned that the rains, which last until October, could force out more people.

  17. fj2 says:

    Carbon sequestration will probably be most effective in the world’s oceans once we start to substantially reduce emissions.

  18. Colorado Bob says:

    Under Russian law, the government can impose caps on the prices of flour, millet, buckwheat and salt if they jump by more than 30 percent over a 30-day period.

    Forty-five Russian regions saw prices for certain foods grow by more than 30 percent in the 30 day period up to August 23, Vedomosti business daily reported on Tuesday, citing a report by the economic development ministry.

  19. Colorado Bob says:

    slamabad – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Wednesday that his country had suffered losses of around 43 billion dollars due to the floods that have displaced over 17 million people and killed more than 1,600.

    The floods, which started with heavy monsoon rains in July, have affected 30 per cent of agricultural land and more than 10 per cent of the population, destroying crops and livestock, and damaging homes, Gilani said at a weekly cabinet meeting.

    He added that “the losses in terms of infrastructure – that is road, bridges and irrigation – and social structure are massive.”,reach-43-billion-dollars.html

  20. Colorado Bob says:

    New ad push from big oil this morning –

    A new survey conducted by Jan R van Lohuizen from Voter/Consumer Outreach, comes at a time when the President and Congress are attempting to pay for environmental and other pet projects on the backs of American oil and gas companies.

  21. peter whitehead says:

    The mass extinction is beginning. I taught geology for years and when you have a drop of 40% of phytoplankton in a generation, 30% of all species in decline, you have the start of a mass extinction, I can assure you.

    Top predators are hit the worst – this time, that’s humans.

    Typically mass extinctions reduce biodiversity by 95%. Recovery usually takes order of 10 million years.

    One of the best indicators of small temperature changes are beetles. My old palaeontology lecturer, Dr Russell Coope, used Ice Age beetle remains to look at the switch from glacial to interglacial conditions in the British ice age – fascinating stuff.

  22. Dibble says:

    Terry Heidelberg says:
    August 31, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    It is mentioned that the graphs in this post are not from the noted study.

    What is the source of the data presented in the two graphs? Is the raw data available for download?

    Just click on the graph.

    Drop them an email.

    Off to do a spot of citizen science auditing?


  23. Mike says:

    This one gets taped to my office door.

  24. Lou Grinzo says:

    At times like this, I can’t but think about one of my “favorite” quotes:

    I grow more cynical every day, but it’s still hard to keep up.
    — Lily Tomlin

  25. Oh Man says:

    Somehow, the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t proof enough?

  26. OregonStream says:

    Colorado Bob, I’m glad I’m not the only one who raised an eyebrow over that episode of Nova. As I commented on their end, even if it isn’t a matter of “survival”, there are the risks of accelerated global climate change (even faster than that linked with evolution in Africa) to today’s ecology, and at least the prosperity of today’s populous societies. African climate swings may have helped spur evolution, but the moderation of global climate helped our development of agriculture and civilization.

  27. Eve says:

    its official – This August in Israel was the hottest (weather-wise)
    on record. Here in Jerusalem, we has a record high of 41 C (105 farenheit). A significant portion of the nights were 3-4 degrees
    (Celsius) hotter than average.

  28. Some European says:

    Looks like Greenpeace’s funny doomsday scenario is being realized:

  29. y rick off says:

    what i dont understand:

    jellyfish was one of the first lifeform in our ocean, 2 billion years ago. the atmosphear had ~20000 ppm co2 or more. 600 million years ago shell wearing molusces were dominatin the ocean -> co2 level was still over 10000 ppm.
    now, co2 is 300ppm to 500ppm , those forms may die on co2 acid?
    sounds like you dont know nothing.