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Marine Life on Acid: Predicting future biodiversity in our changing oceans

May 30, 2013

The underwater vents near southern Italy’s Mount Vesuvius are the closest we have to a time machine on fast-forward to the future. Carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles up from the seafloor like champagne as divers swim into highly acidified seawater. Outside these vent systems, the pH is a normal 8.2, and the waters are a kaleidoscope of multicolored biodiversity. Entering the aquamarine fizz, the pH drops to 7.4, and the view is a monochromatic green carpet of seagrass and algae. Plymouth University’s Jason Hall-Spencer is examining these unusual waters in detail. Are these naturally acidified waters a glimpse into the future? Vent-dwelling organisms have evolved here for millennia and may indeed provide a look ahead as Earth’s oceans grow increasingly acidic because of human action. If so, that vision is a 30-percent reduction in biodiversity and a significant shift away from corals and large fish, toward organisms such as algae, sea grass, and small marine worms.

Ogden L E, in press, Marine Life on Acid: Predicting future biodiversity in our changing oceans, BioScience, 63, 5, 2013, doi:10.1525/bio.2013.63.5.3. Article.

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