Climate change is altering the planet in ways we might not often think about, such as in the acidification of the world’s oceans. A team of 20 scientists from institutions around the United States discovered acidified ocean water in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Study lead author Francis Chan of Oregon State University said, “The threat of ocean acidification is global and though it sometimes seems far away, it is happening here right now on the West Coast of the United States and those waters are already hitting our beaches.”
Scientists conducted a three-year survey of the California Current System to uncover acidified water throughout what Oregon State University described as an ecologically critical nearshore habitat. Researchers also found hotspots of water with pH measurements as low as those found in oceanic surface waters anywhere else around the world. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide has contributed to the phenomenon.
Ocean acidification is a problem because many organisms are sensitive to pH changes. Researchers noted shell dissolution on small swimming snails, for example, but they’re not the only species impacted. Richard Feely of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Washington said, “This is about more than the loss of small snails. These pteropods are an important food source for herring, salmon, and black cod, among other fish. They also may be the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ signifying potential risk for other species, including Dungeness crabs, oysters, mussels, and many organisms that live in tide pools or other nearshore habitats.”
The researchers didn’t just uncover bad news though. They also found refuges of moderate pH environments they think could become havens for marine creatures as other waters become more acidic. These havens could offer a resource for ecosystem management. Chan called for minimizing environmental stressors and managing for diversity in the region to help marine species adapt.
The journal Nature Scientific Reports published the study online the end of May. Scientists from research institutions and universities in Oregon, California, Florida, Washington, Massachusetts, and Hawaii contributed to the study.
Images via Oregon State University