Ocean Acidification: Global Implications for the Marine Environment
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Christopher Harley, Department of Zoology, UBC.
Ocean acidification– the changes in ocean chemistry being driven by the burning of fossil fuels– has been described as global warming’s “evil twin.” Unlike global warming, which has analogs in the recent geologic past, ocean acidification will soon produce seawater that is more acidic than it has been for hundreds of millions of years. The rate of change is also unprecedented, and may outpace species’ abilities to adapt. Because of its extraordinary magnitude and global scale, ocean acidification is now believed to be the single greatest threat to marine ecosystems. The scientific community has only come to fully appreciate the magnitude of this threat in the past five to ten years. In that time, researchers have determined that acidification slows or prevents growth in animals with calcium carbonate skeletons (everything from corals to clams to sea urchins to sea angels) and increases growth in some marine plants.
To date, almost all of this work considers a single species at a time. In natural ecosystems, however, species interact by eating or out-competing one another, and what is bad (or good) for one species may be indirectly good (or bad) for other species. Without an ecosystem-level understanding, the results of studies on individual species cannot be used to predict which species will actually become more abundant, less abundant, or even extinct. This, of course, is exactly the type of information we need to manage our fisheries, conserve endangered species and ecosystems, and ensure food security and quality of life for the 41% of all humanity that lives within 100 km of the ocean. At present, ecosystem-level ocean acidification projects are being initiated in several habitats and geographic locations. Different groups also use different techniques, all of which have strengths and weaknesses. Although incremental progress is being made, overall progress of the field as a whole is hampered by insufficient communication and synthesis and by the lack of concerted, global-scale efforts towards high-priority research goals. The objectives of this Roundtable are to establish a global research network, to synthesize existing information and approaches to produce a set of general predictions, and to provide a blueprint for testing these key predictions.