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The Coral Reef Acid Test

Worldwide ocean acidity will likely increase, spelling doom for corals.

Posted: April 10, 2009

By Ethan Mizer

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I’m gearing up to do some work on my aquariums over the next few weeks, and I’ll be reporting on that here, but in the meantime I want to comment on a recent study published online in Geophysical Research Letters by researchers at the Carnegie Institution and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The study used computer models based on data taken from over 9,000 locations to show that, as more carbon is adsorbed by the world’s oceans from the atmosphere, sea water acidity will increase.

This concept shouldn’t be a surprise to any aquarists who have experience injecting CO2 into their setups. We all know that as we increase the level of dissolved CO2 in our aquariums, the pH drops. That’s why planted tank hobbyists used drop checkers or other means to determine how much injected CO2 is affecting pH.

In our planted tanks, this drop in pH isn’t such a bad thing, as long as we are aware of it and monitor our pH to prevent mishaps. Increasing ocean acidity is a huge problem, however, because of the effect lowered pH has on the ocean’s creatures.

Water Chemistry and Corals
Natural sea water generally has a pH of 8.2, as most reef aquarists know. On a global scale, even slight changes in that average reading can have huge consequences for corals and other marine life.

The study concludes that, when combined with rising temperatures and other factors, an increase in atmospheric CO2 to double the levels seen before industrialization occurred, from around 280 parts per million (ppm) in our atmosphere to around 560 ppm (we’re currently around 380 ppm and counting), would cause most corals around the world to dissolve.

That’s right: The authors of this study are suggesting that, if current trends continue, most coral reefs will likely die off. As we add more CO2 to the atmosphere, these scientists argue, we’ll doom the world’s coral reefs to slow dissolution.

Tell Your Friends
I imagine all of this sounds pretty esoteric to the layman. When stories like this are reported in the media, I worry that the gravity of the findings is lost on those who don’t have a background in studying chemistry or climatology.

That’s where I believe hobbyists can really help to get the word out. As I’ve mentioned in past blog entries, I think hobbyists are the “missing link” when it comes to educating the public about a lot of very serious conservation issues.

As I’ve tried to show in this entry, hobbyists often have an understanding of issues that are foreign to non-hobbyists. Because of this, I think we’re primed to act as translators between the scientific community’s jargon and the average person’s understanding of these problems.

Call to Education
That’s where you come in. I’m not saying I have even an inkling of what to do about these problems. I’ll discuss some proposed solutions and other issues related to climate change in a future blog entry.

However, I do know that we can get the word out and create some discussion. The more people know about the issues of climate change and ocean acidification, the better our chances of making the right choices when the time comes.

I want to emphasize that I’m not saying anything about anthropogenic global warming here. I don’t know the truth of the matter yet, mostly because the issue of anthropogenic global warming is vastly more complicated than it is made out to be (I’ll try to give an overview of these problems in a future blog entry).

On the other hand, just because we don’t know the whole truth yet, doesn’t mean we should avoid considering possible courses of action. Let me know your thoughts, and maybe we can get the discussion going here.

If you aren’t familiar with the topics I’ve been discussing, I suggest you take it upon yourself to go out, read about the study I’ve mentioned here and generally get educated on these issues. The more you know, the more everyone around you will probably end up knowing, too, and that, in my book, is a good thing.

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Reader Comments

mgs    sunbury, PA

5/8/2009 4:15:30 PM

cool

J    C, OH

4/30/2009 4:10:08 PM

Interesting!

mgs    Sunbury, PA

4/24/2009 10:22:11 AM

cool

Dawn    Coshocton, OH

4/22/2009 5:29:49 AM

AS a new "reefer" I found your article to be especially interesting, and sad!

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