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The Good News You Missed About Ocean Acidification

Sean Connell taking notes at a vent that is emitting CO2 bubbles.  Note the pres

Sean Connell taking notes at a vent that is emitting CO2 bubbles. Note the presence of weed-like plants or turfs, which occur instead of the normally extensive kelp forests or urchin barrens.

By Sean Connell

Carbon may be acidifying the oceans, but the species it’s supposed to harm are fighting back.

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We face an ever-growing number of stories about species pushed to extinction and ecosystem collapse, but few about species adjusting to environmental change and their ecosystems persisting. I contend that recognising how nature copes with environmental change is as important as understanding how nature fails to cope.

My research focuses on carbon emissions. Carbon released from fossil fuel combustion is absorbed by the oceans, causing them to acidify. Can nature adjust to these conditions?

Let’s first consider a local pollution event – an oil spill. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster released a vast amount of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists discovered that oil-degrading bacteria played a significant role in reducing the overall environmental impact. These naturally occurring microbes were able to multiply and counter the oil because they have evolved the ability to draw carbon and energy from hydrocarbons for growth.

How does this local example of a short-lived event help us consider CO2 pollution as a long-lived event? Let’s consider the side-effect of CO2 on acidifying the ocean.

It’s well documented that acidification harms the calcified body parts of shellfish. However, this evidence is largely based on artificial laboratory experiments that don’t incorporate the complexity of the natural environment. Our research, published...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.