Ocean Acidification Happening Twice As Fast in California

These colorful spots are tiny foraminifera shells taken from the mud of core samples as seen under a microscope. Image: NOAA

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience this week, the waters off California are acidifying twice as rapidly as elsewhere on Earth.

As NBC News reported,

  • Oceans play an important role in the planet’s delicate carbon cycle, acting as a crucial reservoir that absorbs and stores carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • But the new research finds that although oceans can withstand some natural variations in climate, global warming may be adding to the stress on those ecosystems and overwhelming their ability to cope.

The Study: The study led by Emily Osborne, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ocean acidification program began by collecting samples of sediment from the Santa Barbara Basin off the coast of Southern California in 2013.

As the Oregonian explained, because the basin has little oxygen and a dearth of plants and animals, the ocean floor has remained relatively undisturbed. The sediment cores she pulled from the basin contained the shells of foraminifera, a single-celled plankton, dating back to 1895.

  • After weighing and photographing each specimen, Osborne was able to use the thickness of the shells to establish a 100-year record of pH levels in the waters of the California Current, which runs along the West Coast.
  • She found that, since 1895, shell thickness had decreased by 20 percent due to increased ocean acidification.

Why This Matters: The study suggests that climate change is likely intensifying chemical changes in the ocean that could threaten the seafood industry, especially shellfish farmers. This is troubling news for west coast oyster farmers as climate change is threatening oysters’ ability to form calcium-based shells as well as the range of their habitat. And since California has some of the nation’s most economically-valuable fisheries, this could equate into a serious economic hit.

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