Acidifying Ocean Could Lead to Marine Extinctions

The ocean is acidifying 10 times more rapidly than during a major period of global warming. Continue reading →

A lot of the carbon that human civilization has been spewing into the atmosphere ends up being absorbed into the oceans. That, in turn, is rapidly altering the water chemistry, by reducing the pH level and turning the water more acidic - a change that threatens aquatic life.

Just how quickly ocean acidification is moving - and what its consequences may be - is illustrated by disturbing new In a disturbing new study just published in the journal Paleoceanography.

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University of California-Santa Cruz, Yale and Columbia researchers report that the process is proceeding 10 times more rapidly than it did during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a period of drastic climate change 56 million years ago that killed off some aquatic species and forced others to evolve to survive. During that period, which lasted about 70,000 years, global temperatures rose by 11 degrees F.

Those increasingly acidic waters already threaten important parts of marine ecosystems, such a coral reefs. But humans who depend upon the oceans for food may suffer as well. In an article published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers reported that ocean acidity is eroding the shells of tiny free-swimming marine snails called pteropods, which provide food for the pink salmon, mackerel and herring that humans in turn eat.

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in a recent report that ocean acidification and other effects from climate change may result in reduced catches that may take as much as $41 billion out of the pockets of the fishing industry by 2050.

That's one reason that ocean acidification is one of the main topics on the agenda at a U.S. State Department-sponsored conference on the health of the oceans, which is being held this week in Washington.

Photo: Thinkstock

The month of June honors both National Ocean Month and World Ocean Day (June 8). What better time, then, to check out photos of undersea life and be reminded that things "down there" are just as important as things up here on land. Here, a manatee goes about its day. The manatee, also known as a "seacow," is an air-breathing herbivore listed as a federally endangered species. Manatees are slow moving and can't swim quickly away from boats. This often results in collisions that can kill or injure them.

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Life's a beach. Mom and her baby elephant seal roll around in the sand in Ano Nuevo Island, Calif.

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A humpback whale breaches in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of California.

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A blue rockfish fans for the camera in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, in California.

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A Southern sea otter, aka,

Enhydra lutris nereis

, wonders what all the fuss is about, at South Harbor, Moss Landing, Calif. The World Ocean Day Photo Contest entrant was Submitted by Dr. Steve Lonhart.

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A white-lobed sponge brightens up the scenery. It's one of several images of rarely seen deep-sea animals that were captured on camera in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary during a NOAA expedition. Researchers used a NOAA remotely operated vehicle in waters 328 to 656 feet deep off the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The research was funded by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

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This image brimming with colorful marine life is from the Pearl and Hermes Atoll. It's a huge oval coral reef within several internal reefs and is the second largest among the six atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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Having no backbone isn't always a bad thing! Just ask any octopus. These boneless invertebrates know how to squeeze into (and out of) many a tight spot. They have three hearts, nine brains and blue blood. (Two hearts send blood to the gills, while the third pumper sends it to the rest of the body.)

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Rapture Reef sits within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. The monument encompasses more than 140,000 square miles of ocean and coral reef habitat.

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A sea turtle swims off of the Hawaiian islands.

This seal is eager to wriggle its way back to freedom, as divers release it from fishing nets. Marine debris -- such as these nets -- makes a serious impact on its surroundings. From being an eyesore on a beach to injuring marine life or stopping a 400-ton vessel at sea, it causes problems that are difficult to ignore.

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Grey matter artwork? Nope! It's a sharknose goby (

Elacatinus evelynae

) propped up on brain coral in the U.S. Virgin Islands.