Dinosaurs and the Dodo could soon have an unexpected companion in the annals of extinction. A recent study by scientists at the Carnegie Institution of Science reveals that all of the world’s coral reefs could be dead or dying within the century if carbon dioxide emissions continue along their current trend. Carbon emissions have already lowered the ocean’s pH-level by 0.1 point and the problem is only getting worse, which could spell disaster for coral.
Scientists analyzed computer climate models that demonstrated how the ocean would react to higher carbon dioxide levels. These models revealed that a continued rise in emissions would result in a higher acidification of the ocean, which causes coral to no longer be able to produce the hard shell that protects it. This shell is made up of a carbonate material called aragonite. The more acidic the ocean is, the less available aragonite becomes.
There isn’t a set level at which the ocean becomes too acidic, but by studying pH-levels prior to the industrial age researchers have determined that the danger zone is rapidly approaching. In order to prevent the catastrophe, scientists warn that we must cut emissions a great deal and even that may not be enough. Taking active steps such as planting trees in order to remove emissions from the air may also be necessary. Without drastic action, the reefs and the sea life they support could be decimated by the year 2100.
image © The US Fish and Wildlife Service