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Science publication: Ocean acidification: the other CO2 problem

The past 300 million years help to better predict the consequences of ocean acidification in 2012, an international group of biogeologists, including Appy Sluijs (Utrecht University and Darwin Center) and Patrizia Ziveri (University of Barcelona/VU University Amsterdam) has concluded. The rapid increase of CO2 in our atmosphere not only causes global warming, it also acidifies the ocean water, negatively affecting marine life. “And as CO2emissions are currently higher and more rapid than ever, the consequences may be more dramatic than in the past.” The publication appeared in the 2 March issue of scientific journal Science.


While ocean acidification has been scientifically proven, little research has been conducted into the impact of this on marine life, regarding, for example, fish populations and biodiversity. “We want to control this risk as soon as possible”, says Appy Sluijs, Utrecht University biogeologist. “Experiments with a full ecosystem are impossible in the laboratory and impact studies can only be performed for a limited number of species over a relatively short time span”, says Sluijs. “We are offering an alternative solution to deepen our understanding of ocean acidification: research into the history of ocean acidification over the past 300 million years. Such research can teach us a lot about the long-term consequences, which cannot be researched in laboratory experiments.”


Marked CO2 increase in oceans

Sluijs and his colleagues identified six periods over the past 300 million years in which the ocean acidified as a result of an increase in the CO2 concentration and in which ecosystems changed dramatically. In principle, there is no reason to assume that the impact of the current acidification will be very different. Sluijs: “In fact, we believe that CO2 levels in ocean water is now increasing faster than ever before. We must take this into account, because the faster CO2 enters the ocean, the more it acidifies. Focusing our research on these specific periods helps us to better predict the impact of the current ocean acidification.


Vulnerable organisms

The authors argue that we should focus on periods of comparable acidification in the past. Sluijs explains, “We urgently need to improve our understanding of seawater acidity in the past. We are working hard on this in various Dutch, European and American research programs. This research gives us better clues as to which organism classes are vulnerable to acidification, which is essential to developing policy for sustainable oceans.”


Review in Science: The Geological Record of Ocean Acidification, Bärbel Hönisch, Andy Ridgwell, Appy Sluijs, Patrizia Ziveri, et al., 2 March 2012.


Further information

Ocean acidification research blog