As oceans warm and become more acidic, ocean creatures are undergoing severe stress and entire food webs are at risk, according to scientists at a press briefing this morning at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.
Gretchen Hofmann, associate professor of biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has just returned from a research mission to Antarctica where she collected pteropods, tiny marine snails the size of a lentil, that she refers to as the “potato chip” of the oceans because they are eaten widely by so many species. The National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs funded the expedition.
Pteropods are eaten by fish that are in turn consumed by other animals, such as penguins. As these small creatures are stressed by an increasingly acidic ocean, due to the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, they are less able to cope with a warmer ocean.
“These animals are not charismatic but they are talking to us just as much as penguins or polar bears,” said Hofmann. “They are harbingers of change. It’s possible by 2050 they may not be able to make a shell anymore. If we lose these organisms, the impact on the food chain will be catastrophic.”
Hofmann is a molecular ecologist who studies how genes go off and on as certain marine animals work to make their calcium carbonate shells from the seawater they live in. She characterized her recent trip to Antarctica as an urgent research mission.
She has performed extensive studies of the sea urchin that lives in the kelp forests of California. Sea urchins are a vital part of the food web and play a major economic role in California fisheries, since the roe of the sea urchin is a valuable sushi called “uni.”
Hofmann explained that as marine invertebrates deal with increasing acidity, the larvae have to “re-tune” their metabolism in order to still make a shell. But this is done at a cost. The physiological changes that are a response to the acidity make the animals less able to withstand warmer waters, and they are smaller.
“These observations suggest that the ‘double jeopardy’ situation –– warming and acidifying seas –– will be a complex environment for future marine organisms,” she said.
Hofmann is studying levels of carbon dioxide that would result from what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts would occur if humanity continues on a “business as usual” scenario projected out to the year 2100.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Religious People View Science Favorably But Reject Some Theories - Just Like Everyone Else
- Outsourcing: 3 Ways To Stop Medical Research Brain Drain
- Spider-Man Webbing: How Many Calories Does It Take To Produce All That Silk?
- Battery Leasing And Better Charging Will Make Electric Cars Popular
- Wine Production - Now With More Robots!
- Adult Stem Cells Used To Grow New Hair
- Why Climate Scientists Shouldn't Testify Before Congress
- "The first three paragraphs of your article clash with the relatively cogent review of the published..."
- "Seven years is too short. 18+ years of warming hiatus is too short too when it pertains to questioning..."
- "Nothing false about it. They are the only two groups that count, meaning everything else is window..."
- "Hank i stand corrected om the NIH issue and i agree that research should be bases not om politics..."
- "I once heard that the FDA was Milton Friedman's prime example of bureaucracy run amok. He would..."
- Biofouling: Ocean acidification changes make a difference
- Cantona: Long series of droughts doomed Mexican city 1,000 years ago
- Flame retardants linked to preterm birth
- Erratic as normal: Arctic sea ice loss isn't predictable in the short term
- Long-necked 'dragon' named Qijianglong discovered in China