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Rising Levels of Carbon Dioxide Threat to Marine Organisms

The shelled pteropod—an important food source for fish—is a small planktonic marine snail that may be unable to sustain its populations as the oceans become less alkaline. (Photo: Victoria Fabry, California State University, San Marcos).

A new report finds that worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels are dramatically altering ocean chemistry and threatening marine organisms—including corals—that secrete skeletal structures and support oceanic biodiversity.

The report—Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs and Other Marine Calcifiers—released today summarizes the known effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on these organisms, known as marine calcifiers, and recommends future research for determining the extent of the impacts.

The report follows a workshop funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and hosted by the US Geological Survey Integrated Science Center in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Oceans act as a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. During the 1980s and 1990s, only about half of the anthropogenic CO2 remained in the atmosphere, with the oceans having taken up about 30% and the terrestrial biosphere 20%.

Researchers have determined that with emissions of anthropogenic carbon dioxide continuing to rise, the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) dissolved in the surface ocean is likely to double its pre-industrial value within the next 50 years.  Oceans are naturally alkaline, and they are expected to remain so, but the interaction with carbon dioxide is making them less alkaline and more acidic.

Increasing the amount of CO2 dissolved in the ocean lowers the pH, decreases the availability of carbonate (CO32-) ions, and lowers the saturation state of the major shell-forming carbonate minerals. Carbonate ions are building blocks for the calcium carbonate that many marine organisms use to grow their skeletons and create coral reef structures.

Tripling the pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 concentration will cause a reduction in surface ocean pH that is almost three times greater than that experienced during transitions from glacial to interglacial periods. This is often termed “ocean acidification”because it describes the process of decreasing pH.

—“Impacts of Ocean Acidification”

Measurements of carbonate chemistry worldwide are showing shifts in the carbonate equilibrium consistent with increases in atmospheric CO2. Other studies have determined that the calcification rates of most calcifying organisms studied to date decrease in response to decreased carbonate ion concentration.

Although there have yet to be detailed studies on the effects of reduced calcification on individual organisms and on ecosystems, researchers are inferring that decreased calcification in marine organisms is likely to impact marine food webs and, combined with other climatic changes in temperature, salinity, and nutrients, could substantially alter the biodiversity and productivity of the ocean.

Many calcifying organisms—including marine plankton such as pteropods, a planktonic marine snail—are affected by the chemistry changes. Shelled pteropods are an important food source for salmon, mackerel, herring, and cod. If calcifying organisms such as pteropods are unable to sustain their populations, many other species may be affected.

It is clear that seawater chemistry will change in coming decades and centuries in ways that will dramatically alter marine life. But we are only beginning to understand the complex interactions between large-scale chemistry changes and marine ecology. It is vital to develop research strategies to better understand the long-term vulnerabilities of sensitive marine organisms to these changes.

—Joan Kleypas, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and lead author

This is leading to the most dramatic changes in marine chemistry in at least the past 650,000 years.

—Richard Feely, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL)

Several other major ecosystems that are supported by marine calcifiers may be particularly threatened by ocean acidification. These include cold-water reefs, which are extensive structures that provide habitat for many important fish species, particularly in the coastal waters of Alaska.

The report outlines future research to understand this consequence of climate change. While scientists cannot yet fully predict how much marine calcification rates will change in the future, the report warns that the more critical question is: “What does this mean in terms of organism fitness and the future of marine ecosystems?”




Of course this article conviently ignores that the higher CO2 concentrations are causing large blooms of a different type of plankton, Phytoplankton, which is also a food source for many sea creatures. The Earth ecosystem is not as fragile as they try to depict here and changes are already in effect that are "correcting" some of what is mentioned in the article above:

Quote: "In the May issue of Deep Sea Research, scientists report that salps, about the size of a human thumb, swarming by the billions in "hot spots" may be transporting tons of carbon per day from the ocean surface to the deep sea and keep it from re-entering the atmosphere.
One swarm covered 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) of the sea surface. The scientists estimated that the swarm consumed up to 74 percent of microscopic carbon-containing plants [phytoplankton] from the surface water per day, and their sinking fecal pellets transported up to 4,000 tons of carbon a day to deep water."

Bill W

That is the thing about global warming. Yes the earth is changing/warming, and yes we are making it worse with our activities.

But there was ice covering a big portion of the earth not that long ago, do we go back to that moment in time or do we go back millions of years when things where really warm?

The earth does adapt well, will we like the adaptations?

In the example Patrick gave, are the Phytoplanten better or marine calcifiers?

If we ever get good at climate control and we can stop our contributions to the warming and reduce pollution, when do we know when to stop.....?


Rafael Seidl

In geologic time, whenever there was a massive rapid change in the climate (due to meteorite strike, series of volcanic eruptions or other reasons), existing ecosystems suffered, species went extinct and others eventually filled the niche they left behind. We're in the middle of a man-made mass extinction event.

The question is not so much if this will be the end of life on earth (almost certainly not) but if we are willing to do nothing as the biodiversity in which our own species evolved is lost. We don't really know what the consequences would be. In economic terms, any kind of massive but unpredictable change is an undesirable risk.


Patrick what a load of crap!

Again the scientific consensus on climate change and extinction is clear. The planet is facing a major crisis.

This abstract is from a peer reviewed paper in the most prestigeous journal science journal Nature (Nature 427, 145-148 (8 January 2004)). Read it!

A later reply to this paper tried to dispute it. However not only did the authors again prove their point but another group also suggested that they had UNDERESTIMATED the projected extinctions!

Don't be fooled by idiots.

Climate change over the past 30 years has produced numerous shifts in the distributions and abundances of species1, 2 and has been implicated in one species-level extinction3. Using projections of species' distributions for future climate scenarios, we assess extinction risks for sample regions that cover some 20% of the Earth's terrestrial surface. Exploring three approaches in which the estimated probability of extinction shows a power-law relationship with geographical range size, we predict, on the basis of mid-range climate-warming scenarios for 2050, that 15−37% of species in our sample of regions and taxa will be 'committed to extinction'. When the average of the three methods and two dispersal scenarios is taken, minimal climate-warming scenarios produce lower projections of species committed to extinction (18%) than mid-range (24%) and maximum-change (35%) scenarios. These estimates show the importance of rapid implementation of technologies to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and strategies for carbon sequestration.


The atomic bomb drills in the 50's were much simpler -- bend over and kiss your a__ goodbye. If we just keep on doing what we have been doing, the goodbye will be much longer and more painful. I am not concerned about nature staying in balance. I am only worries about whether we will be on the right side of the balance. At this point in time, it doesn't look good.


Phytoplankton is a more important part of the ocean food chain than are pteropods. Phytoplankton serve the feedstock for nearly every small sea animal which the larger sea animals feed off of such as Krill.

From San Francisco State University:

Quote: "part of a muliti-disciplinary field-based research team which demonstrated that supplementing Antarctica's Southern Ocean with minute quantities of iron can kick-start phytoplankton blooms that rival rainforests for their ability to "drawn down" and lock away the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The research results were featured in the cover article in the journal Science published April 16, 2004.
"Understanding the biological mechanisms which can shift more CO2 into the sea from the atmosphere is a key part of our research and ultimately in our ability as scientists to provide realistic methods to address global warming," says Cochlan, who notes that there is more phytoplankton biomass in the ocean than plant biomass on land."

Sorry Marcus, this is NOT a load of crap as all of the quotes I have posted are also from PEER reviewed studies. The fact is the article presented here gives an alarmist view without any counterpoint to show a way out other than humanity suddenly changing the climate of a planet...sorry, it took many many years for us to get the climate to where it is now and despite our best efforts it will take many many many more years to correct it but this doesn't mean the planet will be left barren as the ecosystem begins to "attempt" to balance itself out we will have to learn to adjust (not just our behaviours but also to adapt to the changing ecosystem).


It is the general gist of your original comment that is a load of crap, ie "The Earth ecosystem is not as fragile as they try to depict here and changes are already in effect that are "correcting" "


To add, while ecosystems will try to adapt, many just won't make it. When rapid climate change has occured in the past to the scale predicted for our present situation, it has been acompianied by mass extinction events. This is of historical record.

An Engineer

Yes, this is a complex issue. See this discussion of Antarctic Krill for some of the effects of global warming. To quote: Another animal that feeds on the same phytoplankton food as krill, jelly-like colonial animals called salps that drift in the ocean currents have increased in the same time the krill have decreased.

As for our own species: The future is not as bleak as the Peak-Oil types would have you believe. We are unique in our ability to look ahaed and see what is coming, even to change our behaviour to affect a different outcome. We can adapt. More precisely, we will adapt as needed. If worst comes to worst, we will make some pretty interesting dietery changes: Algal soup, anyone?


To any that are interested I sent an email to the "Freinds of Science" inquiring as to their stance on global warming and the source of their funding. The answer was quite interesting. I have seen this group referenced (and derided) on other threads on this site. If anyone would like to recieve a copy of their reply drop me a line.

allen Z

You are all foregeting something! CO2 in water makes a weak acidic solution. More CO2 in seawater means more acidic seas. The oceans have absorbed enormous amounts of the gas already. The shift in pH for the last 200 yrs. have already been measured, and it has gone down. This will adversly affect carbon fixing algae, and natural carbon sequestation:


"...What a load of crap!"

" Do not be fulled by idiots."

“…that website contains a load of BULL. "Friends of Science" are an industry-funded group affiliated with the Fraser Institute in Canada which receives funding from ExxonMobil to disinform and confuse (to obfuscate) the public…”.

“…I am a scientist and I read peer reviewed scientific journals. This is where the consensus is.”

Thanks, Markus. Very revealing what kind of “scientists” and what kind of methods they use to achieve a “consensus”.


Patrick - "Of course this article conviently ignores that the higher CO2 concentrations are causing large blooms of a different type of plankton, Phytoplankton, which is also a food source for many sea creatures. The Earth ecosystem is not as fragile as they try to depict here and changes are already in effect that are "correcting" some of what is mentioned in the article above:"

Growth and abundance of phytoplankton like all plant life depend on more than one factor. Increasing one like CO2 will have an effect however only if the other required nutrients are available in sufficient quantities. Hotspots such as these are sustainted by upwellings of nutrients from the ocean floor. These are not increasing so the possible bloom due to an increase in CO2 will be totally limited by this.


What is your point Andrey?

I get tired of all the myths the people like you keep promulgating so I fly off the handel occasionally.

"Very revealing what kind of “scientists” and what kind of methods they use to achieve a “consensus”."

I'm glad it is revealing. Many people don't realize that the consensus regarding climate change is in the scientific literature rather than amongst cherry picked fringe dwellers such as the "friends of science".

Perhaps I should be polite but I get angered when you don't seem to understand such a simple point.


"...Cherry picked fringe dwellers such as "friends of science."

"It is the general gist of your original comment that is load of crap"

That is all Global Warming science is all about.


Andrey, is that really the best you can do?


Hey folks lets keep it freindly. FYI "freinds of Science" don't actally dispute that CO2 is a "greenhouse gas", and they don't dispute that the global temperature is rising. Out of curiosity what branch of science do you come from Marcus? I'm guessing Andrey is an engineer. How about you Patrick?


My background: Master degree in mathematics, minors – physics and chemistry. 20+ years experience in Environment Protection Industry (mostly R&D for pollution control technologies) in four countries.



You are magnificent!

"... is that really the best you can do?"

Don’t you realize that it was YOUR own expressions from exactly this blog I was quoting?


I am a biologist Neil.

From their website they are calling on the Canadian government to drop measures to limit CO2 production. A quote from their site: "The Kyoto Protocol is a political solution to a non-existent problem without scientific justification" Dr. Timothy Ball, Canada’s First Climatology Ph. D.

There are several groups like this around the world. A similar group in Australia is called the Lavoisier group. A good article describing them is located here:

Some info on "Friends of science" here:

It should also be remembered that the Kyoto protocol was never designed to be a solution. Just a starting point.

It is sad state of affairs that groups such as these are still being listened to despite their lack of scientific publications supporting their views (such as quoted above)and despite the efforts listed below by the worlds top scientists. I see the papers come out all the time in the best journals possible. As a biologist it is still not too difficult to follow the gist of these papers and the arguments of the inconvincible skeptics.

Science Vol. 292. no. 5520, p. 1261

The Science of Climate Change
A joint statement issued by the Australian Academy of Sciences, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Caribbean Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, Indonesian Academy of Sciences, Royal Irish Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Turkish Academy of Sciences, and Royal Society (UK).

The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents the consensus of the international scientific community on climate change science. We recognize the IPCC as the world's most reliable source of information on climate change and its causes, and we endorse its method of achieving this consensus. Despite increasing consensus on the science underpinning predictions of global climate change, doubts have been expressed recently about the need to mitigate the risks posed by global climate change. We do not consider such doubts justified.

Support for the Hockey stick graph by the National Research council (ie National Academy of Sciences).

The hundreds of scientists that make up the IPCC.

The statistical analysis done by Oreskes published in Science and descussed here:

Nasa scientists such as James E. Hansen.

The list can go on and on. You get the gist.



It is obvious from my posts that in addition to those phrases, I include plenty of references and logical arguments. When you simply take these phrases and say "Thats what climate change is about". Its kind of pathetic. Now do you understand what I meant by "Is that the best you can do?"


You still do not get it.
Your opponents claim generally that “extremely complex and imprecise climate science does not allow to jump to conclusion that antropogenic GHG emissions somehow substantially affect global climate” This is the language of science. They become more straight when they criticize political and economical measures, based on (according to their opinion) inconclusive scientific data and analysis.

Your proponents claim that “ we are right, and anybody not agreed with our assessment and conclusions is idiot on payroll of oil lobby” This is the language of “professor Lysenko”

Personally I do not believe a single word of scientist using such language, and do not want to waste my time arguing on that level.

Simple common sense analysis of climate change mitigation measures and the ways they are promoted points me to the conclusion that we are fighting “bag Y3K” problem here. Note, that I agree that this problem could be real - I just do not have qualification for that. But end-of-the-world act-now politically correct anti-American hysteria strongly suggests that it is not uncommon in history of science case when majority is wrong.


No more responses to you Andrey.

When you refuse to be convinced by the overwhelming majority of top climate scientists in the world what hope have I got?

I note the similarities between your attitude and that of Creationists.

Happy delusions.

shaun mann

Climate change may be the first real crisis to face all of humankind. A crisis so fundamental that it will require the cooperation of all nations to navigate successfully.

It is bigger than nukes or WWII b/c those, while tremendously horrible times and situations, were problems that could be resolved by the actions of a few nations. The process of Climate change, like any crisis of the commons problem, can only be avoided through real concerted action on the part of all of humanity.

If any one nation acts to reduce their contribution to the problem, they will sacrifice economic growth relative to nations that don't take similar steps.

Nor can this be solved by voluntary efforts like the Kyoto protocol, since they rely entirely on the good will of the participants (how many people would follow the speed limit if there were no cops?). No, this is a problem that requires a World Federation of States, a United States of the World, like the UN, but a real government with real powers and not hamstrung by a Security Council.


One of the possible results of climate change may be the changing of ocean currents. One of these is currently transporting warm water from the equator to northwest Europe. Especially England, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavia thank their relatively mild climates to this current. I live in the Netherlands, and I certainly do not want this ocean current to stop. My country could get about 10 C colder as a result (so much for global warming :-).

That's why don't want climate change! It's as simple as that.

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