Acid Oceans Are Shrinking Plankton, Fuelling Faster Climate Change

Acid Oceans Are Shrinking Plankton, Fuelling Faster Climate Change Researchers investigated how acidic oceans affect plankton in Prydz Bay, East Antarctica. Daniel A. Nielsen, Author provided

Increasingly acidic oceans are putting algae at risk, threatening the foundation of the entire marine food web.

Our research into the effects of CO₂-induced changes to microscopic ocean algae – called phytoplankton – was published today in Nature Climate Change. It has uncovered a previously unrecognised threat from ocean acidification.

In our study we discovered increased seawater acidity reduced Antarctic phytoplanktons’ ability to build strong cell walls, making them smaller and less effective at storing carbon. At current rates of seawater acidification, we could see this effect before the end of the century.

What is ocean acidification?

Carbon dioxide emissions are not just altering our atmosphere. More than 40% of CO₂ emitted by people is absorbed by our oceans.

While reducing the CO₂ in our atmosphere is generally a good thing, the ugly consequence is this process makes seawater more acidic. Just as placing a tooth in a jar of cola will (eventually) dissolve it, increasingly acidic seawater has a devastating effect on organisms that build their bodies out of calcium, like corals and shellfish.

Many studies to date have therefore taken the perfectly logical step of studying the effects of seawater acidification on these “calcifying” creatures. However, we wanted to know if other, non-calcifying, species are at risk.

Diatoms in our oceans

Phytoplankton use photosynthesis to turn carbon in the atmosphere into carbon in their bodies. We looked at diatoms, a key group of phytoplankton responsible for 40% of this process in the ocean. Not only do they remove huge amounts of carbon, they also fuel entire marine food webs.

Diatoms use dissolved silica to build the walls of their cells. These dense, glass-like structures mean diatoms sink more quickly than other phytoplankton and therefore increase the transfer of carbon to the sea floor where it may be stored for millennia.

Acid Oceans Are Shrinking Plankton, Fuelling Faster Climate Change Diatoms are microscopic plant plankton that collectively remove huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Alyce M. Hancock, Author provided

This makes diatoms major players in the global carbon cycle. That’s why our team decided to look at how climate-change-driven ocean acidification might affect this process.

We exposed a natural Antarctic phytoplankton community to increasing levels of acidity. We then measured the rate at which the whole community used dissolved silica to build their cells, as well as the rates of individual species within the community.

More acid means less silicone

The more acidic the seawater, the more the diatom communities were made up of smaller species, reducing the total amount of silica they produced. Less silica means the diatoms aren’t heavy enough to sink quickly, reducing the rate at which they float down to the sea bed, safely storing carbon away from the atmosphere.

On examining individual cells, we found many of the species were highly sensitive to increased acidity, reducing their individual silicification rates by 35-80%. These results revealed not only are communities changing, but species that remain in the community are building less-dense cell walls.

Most alarming, many of the species were affected at ocean pH levels predicted for the end of this century, adding to a growing body of evidence showing significant ecological implications of climate change will take effect much sooner than previously anticipated.

Marine diversity is in decline

These losses in silica production could have far reaching consequences for the biology and chemistry of our oceans.

Many species affected are also an important component of the diet of the Antarctic krill, which is central to the Antarctic marine food web.

Fewer diatoms sinking to the ocean floor mean significant changes in silicon cycling and carbon burial. In a time when carbon drawn down by our ocean is crucial to helping sustain our atmospheric systems, any loss from this process will exacerbate CO₂ pollution.

Our new research adds yet another group of organisms to the list of climate change casualties. It emphasises the urgent need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

The only course of action to prevent catastrophic climate change is to stop emitting CO₂. We need to cut our emissions soon, if we hope to keep our oceans from becoming too acidic to sustain healthy marine ecosystems.The Conversation

About The Author

Katherina Petrou, Senior Lecturer in Phytoplankton Ecophysiology, University of Technology Sydney and Daniel Nielsen, Casual Academic, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know

by Joseph Romm
0190866101The essential primer on what will be the defining issue of our time, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is a clear-eyed overview of the science, conflicts, and implications of our warming planet. From Joseph Romm, Chief Science Advisor for National Geographic's Years of Living Dangerously series and one of Rolling Stone's "100 people who are changing America," Climate Change offers user-friendly, scientifically rigorous answers to the most difficult (and commonly politicized) questions surrounding what climatologist Lonnie Thompson has deemed "a clear and present danger to civilization.". Available On Amazon

Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future second edition Edition

by Jason Smerdon
0231172834This second edition of Climate Change is an accessible and comprehensive guide to the science behind global warming. Exquisitely illustrated, the text is geared toward students at a variety of levels. Edmond A. Mathez and Jason E. Smerdon provide a broad, informative introduction to the science that underlies our understanding of the climate system and the effects of human activity on the warming of our planet.Mathez and Smerdon describe the roles that the atmosphere and ocean play in our climate, introduce the concept of radiation balance, and explain climate changes that occurred in the past. They also detail the human activities that influence the climate, such as greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions and deforestation, as well as the effects of natural phenomena.  Available On Amazon

The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course

by Blair Lee, Alina Bachmann
194747300XThe Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course uses text and eighteen hands-on activities to explain and teach the science of global warming and climate change, how humans are responsible, and what can be done to slow or stop the rate of global warming and climate change. This book is a complete, comprehensive guide to an essential environmental topic. Subjects covered in this book include: how molecules transfer energy from the sun to warm the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect, global warming, the Industrial Revolution, the combustion reaction, feedback loops, the relationship between weather and climate, climate change, carbon sinks, extinction, carbon footprint, recycling, and alternative energy. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

EVIDENCE

What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
by Mauri Pelto
The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer…
For The First Time, We Can Measure The Human Footprint On Antarctica
For The First Time, We Can Measure The Human Footprint On Antarctica
by Shaun Brooks and Julia Jabour
Most people picture Antarctica as a frozen continent of wilderness, but people have been living – and building – there…
The Air Above Antarctica Is Suddenly Getting Warmer
The Air Above Antarctica Is Suddenly Getting Warmer
by Harry Hendon, et al
Record warm temperatures above Antarctica over the coming weeks are likely to bring above-average spring temperatures…
How Close Is 1.5°C? Depends When You Measure From
How Close Is 1.5°C? Depends When You Measure From
Most scientists studying global warming compare today’s temperatures to those of the late 19th century because that is…
Why Methane Emissions Matter To Climate Change
Why Methane Emissions Matter To Climate Change
by Anthony J. Marchese and Dan Zimmerle
The EPA on Aug. 29 unveiled a proposal to rescind regulations to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
French wines show hot dry years are now normal
French Wines Show Hot Dry Years Are Now Normal
by Tim Radford
Records have begun to topple for the world’s finest tipple. French wines can now count 664 years of vintage information…
The Amazon Fire Crisis Has Been 500 Years In The Making – As Brazil's Indigenous People Know Only Too Well
The Amazon Fire Crisis Has Been 500 Years In The Making – As Brazil's Indigenous People Know Only Too Well
by Darren Reid
São Paulo – the largest city in the Americas – was recently plunged into darkness in the middle of the day due to smoke…

LATEST VIDEOS

Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
by Mauri Pelto
The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer…

LATEST ARTICLES

How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
by Adrian Pitts
The Persian Gulf is already one of the hottest parts of the world, but by the end of the century increasing heat…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
by Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo
We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions…
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
by Karine Dupré, et al
What does it take to be a happy and healthy city? In any city, myriad factors go into the mix – and of course we are…
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
by Andrew Blakers, et al
In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that the key requirements…
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
High-tech Weather Forecasting Aims To Bring New Hope To Indian Farmers Facing The Devastation Of Climate Change
High-tech Weather Forecasting Aims To Bring New Hope To Indian Farmers Facing The Devastation Of Climate Change
by Sam Relph
The world’s largest network of automated weather stations, created to predict droughts and floods, is helping tackle…
Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Farmers Stewards Of The Land Again
Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Farmers Stewards Of The Land Again
by Stephanie Anderson
For years, “sustainable” has been the buzzword in conversations about agriculture.