Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 22, 2016. For the first time, NOAA and partner scientists have connected the concentration of human-caused carbon dioxide in waters off the U.S. Pacific coast to the dissolving of shells of microscopic marine sea snails called pteropods.
Commercially valuable fish such as salmon, sablefish and rock sole make the pteropod a major part of their diet.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to tease out the percentage of human-caused carbon dioxide from natural carbon dioxide along a large portion of the West Coast and link it directly to pteropod shell dissolution,” said Richard Feely, a NOAA senior scientist who led the research appearing in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. “Our research shows that humans are increasing the acidification of U.S. West Coast coastal waters, making it more difficult for marine species to build strong shells.”
The global ocean has soaked up one-third of human-caused CO2 emissions since the start of the Industrial Era. While this reduces the amount of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it comes at a cost to the ocean. CO2 absorbed by seawater increases its acidity, reducing carbonate ions, which are building blocks used by shellfish to grow their shells.
A key piece of the new research was determining how much human CO2 emissions have added to naturally occurring CO2 in seawater off the U.S. West Coast. Using several decades of measurements from the Pacific Ocean taken through the U.S. Global Ocean Carbon and Repeat Hydrography Programoffsite link and new data from four NOAA West Coast research cruises conducted between 2007 and 2013, the research team developed a method to estimate additional CO2 from human-caused emissions since the start of the Industrial Era as compared to CO2 from natural sources.
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