Marine scientists have been keeping a close eye on the health of coral reefs in the Florida Keys, where acidic seawater has been slowly eating away at the reef’s limestone framework. Global warming has increased the acidity of the surrounding waters over the years, and a new study reveals the reef’s devastation is occurring at a much faster rate than scientists initially predicted. Based on that, oceanographers say the reef is an indication of a wider impending crisis.

The new study reveals that the Carysfort Reef has lost around 12 pounds per square yard of limestone over the past six years due to acidification caused by global warming. Multiplied over the length of the reef, that amounts to more than 6 million tons of lost limestone, rendering the reef porous and brittle. The increasing acidity of seawater does more than destroy the reef, too. Acidic water also eats away at the shells of marine creatures living near the reef, making them more vulnerable to predators and effectively putting a kink in the ocean’s delicate food chain.

Related: Climate change blamed for alarming 26 percent increase in ocean acidity

florida, florida keys, coral reef, ocean acidification, oceanography, Chris Langdon, university of miami, Carysfort Reef

Study author Chris Langdon, a biological oceanographer at the University of Miami, explains how bad this news is for the overall health of the reef. “This is what I would call a leading indicator — it’s telling us about something happening early on before it’s a crisis,” Langdon said. “By the time you observe the corals actually crumbling, disappearing, things have pretty much gone to hell by that point.”

Via BI

Images via NASA and Chris Langdon/University of Miami