Coral reefs in danger of being destroyed

Rising acidity of the oceans is threat to marine ecosystems, study warns

A A A

All of the tropical coral reefs in the world will be disintegrating by the end of the century because of the rising acidity of the oceans caused by a build-up of man-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a study has found.

Coral reefs start to disintegrate when the acidity of the oceans rises beyond a certain threshold, and this point is likely to be reached before 2100, said Jacob Silverman of the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington.

Carbon dioxide in the air dissolves in the sea to form carbonic acid, which interferes with the ability of coral organisms to make their calcium carbonate shells which form coral reefs, Dr Silversman said. But once the shells stop forming, the reef quickly crumbles.

A mathematical model was used to study how 9,000 coral reefs from around the world would respond to rising levels of carbon dioxide and increasing ocean acidity, Dr Silverman told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego.

"A global map produced on the basis of these calculations shows that all coral reefs are expected to stop their growth and start to disintegrate when atmosphere CO2 reaches 560 parts per million – double its pre-industrial level – which is expected by the end of the 21st-century," he told the meeting.

"Thus these ecosystems, which harbour the highest diversity of marine life in the oceans, may be severely reduced within less than 100 years."

The findings were based on a detailed study of how increasing acidity affects the metabolism and growth of a large area of fringing coral reef in the northern Red Sea. The scientists found that the ability of corals to form their calcium skeletons was strongly dependent on acidity and, to a lesser extent, temperature.

Coral reefs are sometimes considered to be the "rainforests of the oceans" because they are home to a wide variety of fish and other wildlife, supporting about a quarter of all marine organisms. They also provide food for about 500 million people around the world. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years, and are continuing to rise as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Between a third and a half of the CO2 produced since the start of the industrial revolution has dissolved in the oceans.

Scientists have estimated that some 118 billion tonnes of carbon released into the air as carbon dioxide between 1800 and 1994 has been taken up by the oceans.

Dr Simon Donner, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, said increasing ocean temperatures also make coral reefs more susceptible to "bleaching", caused by the loss of the photosynthetic algae on which the coral organisms depend.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the microscopic algae that live in their tissues. As well as giving coral its vibrant colour, the algae provide the reef creatures with most of their energy.

Dr Donner said: "Even if we froze emissions today, the planet still has some warming left in it. That's enough to make bleaching dangerously frequent in reefs worldwide."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'